As we reflect on the Northern Virginia Health Foundation’s first 16 years of service, we do so with a stark realization: At no point in recent history have the health challenges faced by people with low incomes, the uninsured, and the under-insured achieved so much public awareness.
The COVID-19 pandemic was an eye-opener like no other. For some, it illuminated the importance of our state, local public health departments, and their role in containing deadly viruses and protecting the community’s health. Many saw how our fragile social safety net struggled to remain intact through forced shutdowns and expensive yet necessary investments in personal protective equipment.
Yet, for a large majority of people in our region, the pandemic was a wake-up call to an important and unsettling reality: The opportunities to be healthy and prosper are not uniform across Northern Virginia.
While this was true before COVID-19, we believe in, and even champion, the idea that this does not have to be the reality for the future.
Since our strategic shift to include a focus on the social determinants of health in 2015, we have worked to point out poverty and racial inequities in our region, along the way debunking traditional stereotypes of what low-income communities look like and how they came to be. It has involved educating decisionmakers about community needs and working with others to change policies and practices that keep inequity in place.
Creating a healthier — and more equitable — Northern Virginia is not easy work. But it is essential — for achieving our mission, and for ensuring that the health of our most vulnerable residents does not go overlooked.
In years to come, expect our investments of time and resources to continue in the areas that are key to our work: stabilizing and strengthening the safety net; working upstream to improve health outcomes and; seeking impact beyond grantmaking.
It is clear that the pandemic has exacerbated the inequities that already existed — and it will take time to not only achieve a recovery, but to eliminate the disparities that have been present for many, many years.
We see our role in Northern Virginia even more important than it was 16 years ago.
It will be critical to continue to elevate the importance of health, racial, economic and social factors that impact daily life for our region’s residents — particularly those most in need.
And most of all, we will continue to stay true to our mission — to improve the health and health care of the residents of Northern Virginia, with a particular emphasis on low-income, uninsured, and underinsured residents.
Patricia N. Mathews is president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Health Foundation and Judy Feder is the chair of the Northern Virginia Health Foundation Board of Directors.