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  • Writer's pictureTedd Grain

Understanding Social Determinants of Health

Recent studies have shown your zip code can impact your life expectancy, both positively and negatively. Known as social determinants of health, Eskenazi Health recognizes where you live, learn and worship can significantly affect your health and quality of life. For more than 160 years, Eskenazi Health has continued to find and support new ways to address social determinants of health affecting the patients and communities Eskenazi Health serves.

Food as medicine

Nearly 200,000 Indianapolis residents struggle with food insecurity. While 21% of residents in Indianapolis do not have adequate access to nearby grocery store locations, commonly referred to as food deserts, 41% of children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition. According to the most recent unmet need survey conducted by Indy Hunger Network, the food insecurity level in Marion County continues to rise. In 2020, the meal gap was a staggering nine million meals per the Indy Hunger Network.

Eskenazi Health understands the negative impact living in a food desert can have on an individual’s quality of life. Limited or no access to nutritious food can create potential health issues including diabetes, hypertension and other chronic illnesses. In an effort to help increase accessibility to quality, nutritious food, the Eskenazi Health Fresh for You Market was created for patients and surrounding neighborhood residents. Located on the Eskenazi Health downtown campus and a convenient stop on the IndyGO bus route, the first of its kind market offers additional grocery options while introducing a new pantry model for those struggling with food insecurities to shop in the store without the stigma of shopping in a traditional pantry. Eskenazi Health also understands the correlation between nutrition and preventing chronic illnesses. As a means to decrease and prevent the need for medication aimed at treating diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses, Eskenazi Health offers hands on, educational nutrition classes focused on healthy eating and encouraging healthy lifestyles.

Mental wellness

The need for mental health resources became increasingly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many individuals experienced heightened levels of stress, anxiety, fear or loneliness during the pandemic and access to mental health care became a necessity for those struggling with mental health disorders. Eskenazi Health understands the importance accessible mental health care can have on an individual’s overall health. Sandra Eskenazi Mental Health Center, Indiana's first community mental health center, provides comprehensive care for all types of emotional and behavioral problems, including severe mental illness and substance abuse. Indianapolis residents can seek readily available treatment at several locations throughout Indianapolis.

Healthy lifestyles

Similar to the food as medicine concept, healthy lifestyles play a large role on an individual’s well-being and quality of life. Eskenazi Health Healthy Me was created as a free wellness program focused on lifestyle management by supporting participants of all ages in their efforts to improve their overall health and well-being. Eskenazi Health believes everyone should have the opportunity to live a happy and satisfying life, and this program is designed to meet the patient’s specialized needs and goals. Participants will work with an Eskenazi Health Healthy Me coach who will provide educational resources to encourage healthy lifestyle choices.

Transportation and connectivity

Individuals with limited or no access to reliable transportation do not receive adequate health care and treatment. Through partnerships with local organizations including IndyGo and the Connected Communities Initiative, Eskenazi Health patients are increasingly able to access routine health care. Eskenazi Health patients are provided with IndyGo bus passes, while those living near Eskenazi Health Center locations can utilize walking and bicycle paths, including the soon to be expanded B and O trail located on the westside of Indianapolis.


Eskenazi Health has identified how housing and neighborhood conditions directly impacts one’s life expectancy. Residents living in neighborhoods faced with systemic barriers such as unsafe water, poor infrastructure or high rates of violence have lower life expectancies compared to those living in unaffected neighborhoods. To offset the negative impact the lack of proper housing can have on an individual, Sandra Eskenazi Mental Health Center offers residential programs and supports housing needs for patients and members of the community. Additionally, The Eskenazi Health Housing Rights & Eviction Helpline has teamed up with the legal association, Indiana Legal Services, to advise Eskenazi Health patients when landlords have threatened to evict them and have violated their right to housing. Eskenazi Health has also partnered with NeighborLink to do home repairs where needed.

Safe living environments

Relationships and interactions with family, friends, co-workers and neighbors affect an individual’s health and well-being. Creating and keeping positive relationships with others can help maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eskenazi Health offers multiple programs aimed at increasing awareness and decreasing the risk of violence-related injuries and conditions. Education is a key component in the prevention of violence. These programs include Eskenazi Health Center of Hope, Legacy House, Prescription for Hope and the Eskenazi Health Gender Health Program and are dedicated to caring and helping victims of crimes, including sexual assault and family violence.

Economic opportunity

Steady employment also has an impact on an individual’s quality of life. Those who struggle financially or with unemployment are less likely to seek medical care due to lack of health insurance and available funds to pay for treatment. Recently, Eskenazi Health adopted a livable wage policy increasing the entry level wage for Eskenazi Health employees to $18.00 per hour. In an effort to improve the financial condition of the community it serves, Eskenazi Health actively hires and recruits individuals living in surrounding communities and neighborhoods. Eskenazi Health also provides financial counseling which streamlines the process for accessing health care and benefits such as SNAP.

Eskenazi Health continuously supports the Eskenazi Health patient population and surrounding neighborhoods through creating programs aimed at combating social determinants of health. Programs include increasing access to nutritious food, partnering with local organizations to enhance community partnerships, lifestyle medicine programs, and housing programs and assistance. To learn more about available programs at Eskenazi Health, please visit

Tedd Grain, director, social determinants of health, Eskenazi Health focuses on helping under appreciated Indianapolis residents live longer and better lives through improving the social determinants of health. For more information about Eskenazi Health’s efforts towards improving social determinants of health for Indianapolis residents, please contact Tedd Grain at

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