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Event Recap: Fostering Creative Solutions and Collaborative Efforts to Close Equity Gaps | 4.30.2024

On April 30, HC3 hosted a virtual program, Innovative Solutions and Collaborative Efforts: Closing Equity Gaps, focused on highlighting the efforts of innovators who are actively seeking to address substantial equity gaps across Chicago and beyond. This event featured unique partners committed to amplifying community voices, transforming accessibility, and strategically collaborating to implement solutions for enhanced outcomes.


Meghan Phillipp, Executive Director, HC3 (Health Care Council of Chicago)


Panel Discussion:

Niambi Blodgett, Senior Director, Global Patient Engagement, Emvenio Research

Brian Chmura, Sales Director, Unite Us

Karen Laing, Co-Founder and CEO, Okkanti

Meredith Schanda, Chief Operating Officer, The Maven Project

Watch the Webinar

Event Recap

(Some responses have been summarized or condensed for clarity and brevity)

Discussion Themes:

·       Technology Integration for Connection

·       Data-Driven Solutions

·       Community-Centered Care

·       Strategic Collaboration for Enhanced Outcomes

·       Adapting to Emerging Trends

Panelist Introductions

Niambi Blodgett (NB): I lead community and engagement efforts at Emvenio Research, a clinical trials organization. We offer a decentralized model for clinical research, including a mobile community research site with locally hired clinicians. Our community engagement efforts aim to establish long-term relationships in the communities we serve. We operate across 13 sites in the United States, including Chicago, Illinois. Our passion is to break down barriers for individuals interested in participating in clinical research and educate them about its importance, especially for underrepresented populations. We also share opportunities about current studies and their value. My favorite part is the education, where we learn about the local community's needs through conversations and discussions. This helps us develop strategies and understand where the needs are so that we can provide value. My passion for clinical research stems from personal health journeys, which can be vulnerable and challenging. Bringing information and opportunities to the community is crucial, as well as closing gaps in participation. I'm excited to discuss what more we can bring to the community and the clinical research industry.

Brian Chmura (BC): I'm Brian Chmura from Unite Us, a technology company building infrastructure to elevate social care to health care, connecting various organizations, and breaking down barriers. We focus on social care, including community-based organizations, health systems, and government agencies, bringing them onto the same technology platform for seamless communication. Our goal is to ensure individuals receive wraparound services, regardless of where they enter the community. We aim to understand the impact of these services at both individual and community levels, using closed-loop referrals to collect data. We operate across 46 states, headquartered in New York City. My military background led me to Unite Us, which initially focused on veterans' needs and later expanded to serve all individuals in need. I'm excited to discuss our work on this panel in detail. Thank you.


Karen Laing (KL): I'm Karen Laing, founder of Okkanti. I believe our personal health journeys drive us, and technology can amplify community efforts. My background as a midwife and lactation consultant started in 1997, focusing on improving maternal health and pregnancy care in the US. The crisis has emphasized the power of community care, evidenced by the doula model. I've trained and mentored birth workers, integrating mindfulness into relationship-centered care. Building a technology company became essential for facilitating these care models, data collection, and collaboration. Okkanti’s mission is a community-led pregnancy care platform, fostering intimate connections and supporting workforce sustainability. We collect data to showcase the impact of community-led interventions. I'm grateful to be here and appreciate the work of all the panelists. Thank you, Meghan, for the opportunity.


Meredith Schanda (MS): I'm Meredith Schanda, CEO of MAVEN Project, aiming to provide expert health care for everyone, everywhere. We improve equitable access to comprehensive health care, especially in underserved areas, by connecting volunteer physicians to frontline clinicians via telehealth. Our services equip primary care providers with the skills and knowledge to treat complex patients. We partner exclusively with the health care safety net, serving diverse populations with high chronic disease burdens and access barriers. MAVEN Project alleviates challenges and improves timely intervention access. As a clinician and former MAVEN Project user, I've witnessed firsthand the impact on patients' lives. I am grateful to share our organization and connect with more clinics, especially in Chicago. Thank you for hosting, Meghan.

Panel Discussion

MP: As we center ourselves around health equity, please share a specific initiative or project your organization has led targeting racial, ethnic, health, and social disparities. Highlight any strategies that helped achieve these goals.

MS: I mentioned our three main pillars: comprehensive wraparound services, direct specialist access for consults, and education/mentoring for primary care providers. Here's a tangible story illustrating their value in addressing racial and ethnic disparities. We collaborate with a California clinic serving unhoused patients, providing on-the-street care. Historically, accessing specialty care for these patients was challenging. Recently, a clinician collaborated with one of our vascular surgeons on wound care management for these patients. Together, they developed actionable plans considering resource limitations. They saved a patient's leg, demonstrating our goal to equip providers with realistic skills and confidence. This story encapsulates our approach: meeting patients where they are with available resources.


BC: At Unite Us, we aim to create a collaborative and accountable care network, connecting everyone to social care organizations and health systems. In Chicago, we work closely with health transformation collaborations funded by HFS in Illinois, particularly focusing on the South Side Healthy Community Organization, covering 14 zip codes and involving 13 organizations, including health care systems. We bring these entities together to build a collective network, integrating all social care organizations to address community needs comprehensively. By sharing data across the network, we ensure that every organization has access to the same information, facilitating a deeper understanding of community needs. Quantifiable data helps us identify priority areas, such as housing or food assistance. Our goal is to foster collaboration among organizations with shared goals, ensuring they can communicate effectively and provide seamless care to community members.


NB: Part of our history began in Chicago, where we collaborated with the University of Illinois, Chicago, and Dr. Novak on a COVID-19 vaccine study during the pandemic peak. We utilized our mobile community research sites to extend our reach to communities that traditional facilities couldn't access due to concerns. Dr. Novak's passion for equity in marginalized populations aligned with our mission. Our community health initiative, including no-cost health screenings conducted at various facilities, connects with populations often overlooked in clinical research. These screenings cover eye exams, memory assessments, and blood tests for overall health evaluation, including kidney and liver functions. Onsite clinicians provide immediate results, fostering relationships with individuals interested in participating in research. This initiative builds trust and rapport by meeting communities where they are, removing barriers to participation. Our approach decreases barriers by delivering services in familiar locations rather than requiring individuals to travel long distances. We're excited about the enduring relationships we've built across multiple organizations, aligning with advocates to amplify our message to underserved communities.


MP: Karen, your platform's focus is a bit more granular and specifically on maternal health. It is helpful to both patients and the workforce supporting them. I would like to know how you're looking at that because I know that Okkanti is earlier in its stages. I also want to know how you're trying to apply a health equity lens to your efforts.


KL: Absolutely. Ensuring people can find their trusted care providers with cultural congruence is crucial. Accessing birth providers who share their experiences is vital for comprehensive care. While Medicaid reimbursement for doulas is available, access goes beyond financial aspects. People seek providers who understand their unique backgrounds and experiences, from immigrant status to faith traditions. We aim to use technology to simplify finding the right support, especially during pregnancy. Our pregnancy care platform offers mental health support, physical therapy, and other services, allowing individuals to build a personalized support network. Our practice management platform facilitates provider collaboration, promoting whole-person care and ease of access. We're committed to making it easier for individuals to find and connect with the support they need, aligning with Unite Us's efforts to streamline referrals and access to resources.


MP: Technology enablement is a common theme among all of you. Let's discuss. how are each of you leveraging technology to facilitate your solutions?


KL: Utilizing technology for telehealth, virtual doula care, and timely information prompts holds great potential. However, personal connections remain irreplaceable, especially during labor or postpartum care. My passion lies in fostering relationships, and technology enhances these connections. Despite the complexity of accessing care, particularly in rural areas, our platform aims to bridge the gap by quickly connecting individuals with human support. While technology has limits, we leverage it to facilitate care continuity and demonstrate impact. By aggregating data from various organizations, we can strengthen payer relationships and showcase outcomes, including improvements in pregnancy care and workforce well-being. My role as a non-technical co-founder in this space underscores the importance of collaborative efforts with technology partners to address personal challenges effectively.


MS: Post-COVID-19, there's been a surge in telehealth interest, often prioritizing hyper-efficiency over relationships. MAVEN Project aims to use technology to foster a medical community mindfully. E-consults are central to our model, providing frontline providers access to specialists. Rather than anonymous interactions, we build rapport, enabling longitudinal conversations. We aim to create a virtual hallway for community health centers, akin to academic institutions, facilitating meaningful connections with volunteer physicians. This approach extends beyond one-off consultations, offering ongoing mentorship and continuing medical education. By leveraging technology, we serve as a workforce multiplier, connecting physicians nationwide to maximize their impact. Maintaining relationships is paramount in our solutions.


BC: With our recent acquisition of Now Pow, we've noticed a similar trend where access to organizations is key, but trust is equally important. We deploy community engagement managers who establish close connections with community-based organizations, ensuring accurate and up-to-date information. This fosters trust and reliability, which are crucial for effective referrals and continued engagement. By building a network of partners committed to serving the community, we prioritize trust between patients and clinicians. Additionally, our technology empowers community organizations by providing them with valuable data to secure additional funding and demonstrate their impact. While technology is essential, building trust within the community remains our primary focus.


MP: Niambi, I know your approach is a different sort of technology enablement, but it is multifaceted. While mobile units may seem unconventional, they represent an innovative form of technology that enhances access. Additionally, we're leveraging decentralized clinical trials to advance health equity. The focus is on utilizing technology to support these efforts and effectively meet our community's needs. So, how are you using the decentralized model and advancing the technology that supports your effort to meet that need?


NB: I'll speak more about it from a community engagement standpoint because we are obviously not a technology company. But I agree with all the panelists that nothing can replace personal relationships. No technology can do that. So, since we use technology to assist us with the logistics, we might decide to go to a specific location to engage with a particular community. While we're not a technology company per se, we recognize the value of leveraging technological tools to support our efforts. Our approach involves using platforms like Socially Determined to understand the unique needs of each community we serve. For example, in Chicago, we identified food insecurity as a significant issue. We utilized data from these platforms to support a Meals on Wheels route in areas with high food resource risk. Additionally, platforms like Trial Hub help us analyze clinical research prevalence in different areas, informing our decisions about where to focus our efforts. Another valuable tool is the Inclusive platform by Dr. Amber, which streamlines the process of identifying community organizations that are aligned with our mission. By using technology in this way, we can streamline logistical tasks and dedicate more time to building relationships within the communities we serve.


MP: Another common thread among you is that you're utilizing technology to measure your outcomes and data. I'd love each of you to talk about how you're leveraging data. So, let's dive into the importance of data. How are each of you leveraging it for your organizations?

BC: Our approach revolves around utilizing data to comprehend community needs and assess the collective impact of our efforts. We track these interactions longitudinally when we make referrals or share resources through our technology. We analyze whether individuals received the services they requested and evaluate the outcomes. This includes determining whether the service addressed the root cause or provided temporary relief. We also identify service gaps in the community, such as shortages in food pantries or housing options. By quantifying these gaps, we can advocate for necessary resources more effectively. We aim to collaborate with state and local government agencies to address these issues collectively rather than in isolation. Ultimately, we aim to ensure that individuals receive the assistance they need and that community services are interconnected to provide comprehensive care.

MS: Building on what Brian mentioned, data has become crucial for demonstrating value to stakeholders. At MAVEN Project, we understand the importance of translating anecdotal evidence into quantifiable data. To achieve this, we utilize surveys, although we're aware of survey fatigue and strive to keep them brief. For instance, after consultations, we ask providers a simple question: Did this MAVEN Project consultation enable you to avoid referring the patient externally? In 2023, over 75% of respondents answered affirmatively, indicating the value of our service in allowing them to manage patients confidently within their medical home. This data showcases our impact and helps clinics demonstrate their value to stakeholders such as grant funders and donors. However, we recognize that quantifiable metrics aren't the sole measure of impact. Storytelling is equally powerful in conveying our value. Therefore, we collect user feedback, including clinicians and patients, through annual surveys. These surveys aim to gauge the impact of the MAVEN Project on clinicians' day-to-day experiences and its role in reducing burnout and improving workforce retention. Studies have shown insufficient access to patient resources is a leading cause of burnout among providers in underserved communities. MAVEN Project and initiatives like Unite Us address this by providing clinicians with the tools they need to care for their patients effectively, ultimately reducing the burden on providers and improving patient outcomes. By combining quantifiable data with compelling stories, we can effectively communicate the value of our work.


MP: Another important theme we've discussed is trust, and I believe many of you are taking a unique approach to engage with patients or providers to cultivate strategic relationships. How are you integrating community voices into your work? Niambi, I'd like to begin with you, considering your presence in the Chicago market and other markets, each with its unique dynamics. Then, I'd like to hear from others about their approaches to incorporating community voices.


NB: Our first step in integrating community voices is creating spaces where they can be heard. We engage with various stakeholders, including the public and community leaders like pastors, tailoring our approach to each unique community, such as in Little Rock, Arkansas, where we acknowledge the prevalence of churches. Events, tours, and discussions with our team members help facilitate this dialogue. Listening is crucial, and we use the feedback to adapt our strategies, even pivoting existing initiatives if necessary. For example, in addressing workforce challenges in Chicago, we've provided opportunities for young individuals to gain interview experience. Although not directly related to clinical research, this response reflects our commitment to the community's needs and demonstrates our ongoing support and involvement beyond health care.


KL: That's my passion—the relationship. I will take the broader view, which describes the work we're doing with Okkanti. We recognize that different stakeholders have data points and outcomes they want to think about. To improve health care, we must measure and track patient experience, costs, and outcomes, among other elements like workforce and burnout. The quintuple aim is referenced. One of our early use cases is a hospital with challenges. They wanted to retain people leaving the system, and there were metrics they wanted to change. For us, the community had answers about improving care. Our method is that we have a platform, but the Okkanti platform is designed to be flexible and to feed into multi-agency collaborations that have gained strength in the last 20 years. Key people are doing great work together, knowing their communities. We want to build a community-led intervention or innovation that meets stakeholders' metrics. They want to improve patient experience and keep people in the hospital. The doulas and community members who received feedback on the hospital had answers. We lean into community-led design and human-centered design processes. When we work with multi-agency collaborations, we consider stakeholders' priorities and work through a discovery process. We emerge with a care innovation facilitated by the care finder but designed by the community.


MP: I'd love for each of you to talk about what you're seeing as an emerging trend or development within your work or system. Do you anticipate it will impact our efforts around health equity, and how are you approaching it?


MS: This won't surprise anyone, I don't think. MAVEN Project is thinking about how we can mindfully and fully plan to incorporate AI into meaningful ways that support existing workflows for clinicians. For us, that means getting answers to clinical questions on demand instead of waiting for a response from a physician. Can we leverage the data we've already collected to provide real-time answers to common questions? Also, improving operational efficiencies internally so we can do bigger work across the US. These are common conversations happening within the MAVEN Project. I know this landscape is evolving, and we're trying to stay cognizant of that. I'm passionate about not leaving the health care safety net behind when it comes to technological advances. They're often the last to see things like telehealth, for example, and that shouldn't be the case. We want to be the avenue that brings accessible artificial intelligence to these community health centers, which deserve access to critical technological advances. So, hopefully, I kept it under 60 seconds there.


NB: I was going to say AI because that was at the top of my mind. In ways very similar to how Meredith was addressing it, it allowed us the space to engage in other ways outside of just the burden of administrative responsibilities, from my perspective. However, community-based recruitment offers more opportunities to build long-term relationships in our industry. Often, we want diversity and improvements from a racial and ethnic perspective in studies right away. We want it quickly, but we've learned that it comes with long-term relationship building, even though we are a young organization, for various reasons, including trust, as we discussed before. In this approach, making sure it's also flexible to consider all communities in a unique and customized way with those relationships. For our studies, we are sitting at a 44.6% diversity metric, which is over the industry standard, in a way that is very intentional in how we have brought in that community. There is an opportunity and an understanding that these types of relationships bring great value and can do so in a way that's not simply transactional. So, it's about establishing a community within a community. That’s probably the number one way to contribute in those ways, but that's like a community-based, establishing a more rooted, community-based approach through recruiting.


KL: Okay. In predictive care, remote patient monitoring is a powerful way of capturing and listening to more people's experiences. So, I think it's interesting to capture what people talk about with their doulas as predictive of their needs. Having a thoughtful way of capturing people's needs before things become a crisis is part of relationships and technology, and that would be what I thought.


BC: The emergence of the 1115 waiver to address health-related social needs, where states are getting involved, is not so much piecemeal together across health systems or specific agencies, but it's coming from the top down and funded through the 1115 waiver. So, Medicaid is paying for community-based organizations to provide their services for continuous funding, ensuring that as the work grows, they continue getting funded. I think that will be the huge emergence we see across the country.


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