The just-completed 2012 Summit organized by ACMHA: The College for Behavioral Health Leadership was simply marvelous. Historic Charleston, with its diverse communities, served as an exceptional backdrop for a very spirited conversation. King Davis opened and closed the event in his inimitable way, with a carefully crafted mixture of professional analysis and personal family biography. From the listening and the conversation, two things became very clear: Communities are crucial to our health and our quality of life, and social support is the glue that links these life factors together. Going forward, it also became very clear that both ACMHA and the field have a major task to incorporate community dynamics, such as social supports and other social determinants of health into our health reform efforts. The 2012 ACMHA Summit was definitely a celebration of the Second Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA), which occurred on the last day of the Summit, Friday, March 23rd.
The theme of the 2012 ACMHA Summit, “Healthy Supports, Healthy Communities” fits closely with the important finding that good health is related closely to the social support that one’s community provides. Social support is one of the social determinants of health—those positive and negative factors in one’s community that enhance or diminish one’s health status. Discrimination is an example of a negative determinant; social support, a positive determinant. The social determinants of health are recognized explicitly in the ACA because of its emphasis on disease prevention and health promotion. By 2020, an estimated 30% of US health care resources will be expended on these interventions.
After King Davis’ thoughtful introduction to the topic of community social supports, Summit participants subdivided into several simulated communities—urban, rural, workplace, faith-based, virtual, and school. Each community was given several questions to answer: What defines it as a community? What social supports would improve its health? How would one know that this had occurred? How does behavioral health fit into this community? Does it have a role in leading change? In fostering collaboration? Although the communities were being simulated, participants perceived correctly that these are the questions that will demand our attention as we implement national health reform. The community work was fun, informative, and sometimes blurred across the line from simulation to reality.