Aligning Health Care and Social Services

An elderly couple talks with a doctor in her office.

Social services have a unique and vital role to play in building a Culture of Health.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation commissioned Jean Flatley McGuire, PhD, a nationally known public health researcher at Northeastern University, to explore the current state of the social services sector and the promises and pitfalls that arise when increasing engagement between the health care and social services (also known as human services) sectors.

Aligning Health Care and Social Services: A Primer on Social Services provides background context for McGuire’s research, and describes the rich history of the social services sector, where the sector stands today, and opportunities for alignment with health care.

In the United States, social services organizations provide a variety of services to individuals, especially the most vulnerable, including housing, nutrition support, life skills development, and disaster recovery. Increasingly, these organizations are partnering with the health care sector to collaboratively address patients’ needs at a systemic level.

A strong social services sector has always been vital to American life, especially in times of resource uncertainty. Despite significant growth in recent years, the social services sector faces an uncertain future. Although challenging, these trends are not especially dissimilar from trends the sector has consistently faced to varying degrees since the 1980s. Strategic adaptations that address these trends are already underway and reinforce the need for alignment of the social services sector with health care and public health.

Aligning Health Care and Social Services: Recommendations for Effective Engagement outlines key findings and recommendations for establishing a more productive and rewarding relationship between the health care and social services sectors.

A future alignment between the health care and social services sectors will benefit patients and providers alike, and may achieve efficiencies in both sectors. However, that alignment will not be successful if the social services sector lacks the resources to adequately meet its foundational social, economic, and independent living support roles that build well-being, self-sufficiency, and community engagement. Health care needs a strong social services sector that can both diminish risk through these core functions and reliably respond when health care-related non-medical service delivery or coordination is needed to achieve quality and cost improvements.

Both sectors require significant relational, cultural, partnership, capacity development, and workflow changes and a commitment to adequate planning, collaborative goal setting, intervention piloting, and course correction.

Aligning Health Care and Social Services: Insights for Grantmakers Webinar Recording

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation hosted the Aligning Health Care and Social Services: Insights for Grantmakers webinar, featuring information on:   

  • Challenges that limit collaboration between health care and social services and how to overcome them
  • How to adapt grant strategies to better align philanthropic efforts
  • Short- and long-term funding approaches that can improve social determinants of health
  • Research findings on how the social services sector is changing, and what that means for health care