March Networking Lunch Recap: Brian Myers, Empire Health Foundation

Social determinants of health

The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. They include factors like socioeconomic status, education, the physical environment, employment, and social support networks, as well as access to health care.

Speaking at the March INBA networking luncheon at the Lincoln Center on March 8, Brian Myers extended the conversation to INBA members and guests on behalf of Empire Health Foundation.

Brian directs the Foundation’s Rural Aging Services Program, which is aimed at supporting seniors to remain healthy and independent in their homes or communities of choice.  He also oversees the design and implementation of the Capacity Building Program, helping bring over $210 million of outside funding to Eastern Washington and catalyzing partnerships to address social determinants of health.  Brian earned his B.A. from San Francisco State University. His past experience includes education and nonprofits.  Prior to moving to Spokane, he was with TechSoup, a nonprofit social enterprise that increases the capacity of other nonprofits.  He is an avid ultra-marathon runner, often competing in mountain trail races of 100 miles and longer.

Empire Health Foundation’s vision is to transform the 7 counties and 3 tribal reservations into the state’s healthiest region.

According to Empire Health Foundation, “social determinant of health” are life-enhancing resources such as food sources, housing, economic and social relationships, transportation, education, and healthcare whose distribution across populations effectively determines length and quality of life.

These major factors go so far beyond choosing and having access to a major health care provider, that the strategies of improving these factors must look outside of traditional healthcare settings. According to Brian, Health Equity is an equally important factor that contributes to the efficacy of programs seeking to address and improve the social determinants of health. Health Equity is when everyone has the ability to attain their full health potential and no one is disadvantaged due to their social position.

Examples in Spokane

Education, health, and income are all connected.

  • According to the Spokane Regional health district, individuals in Spokane without a high school diploma or equivalent are 50% more likely to be living at or below the federal poverty line.
  • 86% of the population in Spokane County is Caucasian/White, while approximately 1% identify as Native American. Of that 1%, at least half live in poverty. For African American/Black and Hispanic populations in Spokane, around 40% are below the poverty line.
  • The census-designated neighborhoods Southgate (South Hill) and Riverside (Downtown) are only 6 miles apart yet represent a difference in life expectancy of 18 years. A resident in higher-income neighborhoods such as Southgate can expect an average life expectancy of 84 years, compared to only 66 years in the lowest income neighborhoods.
Health Equity is lacking especially in LGBT Youth

In Washington, one in seven youth identifies as LGBT. Approximately 7-9%. The percentage of LGBT females in the juvenile justice system? 40%.

27% of LGBTQ individuals experienced a time in the past year where they did not have enough income to provide food for themselves or their family.

Despite shocking statistics, things can improve

One of Empire Health Foundation’s goals was to improve health care access among hard-to-reach groups. Their objective was to enroll 10,000 people in a health plan within an 18 month period.  Better Health Together enrolled over 100,000 people in that time period. Across Washington, this initiative resulted in over 600,000 people enrolled in Health plans.

If any state can innovate health care with limited resources, Brian is confident that Washington will lead the way. The main obstacles are a shrinking federal budget and the repeal of social safety net programs. Donations are the primary way that Empire Health Foundation meets its goals, and it offers incentives like matching organization donations.

To learn more about Empire Health Foundation’s initiatives and results, visit