A community health center in an underserved area has to do many complicated things, on many levels, simultaneously, to give the best possible care to its patients.
But, in the end, it really comes down to one thing: trust.
“When a patient leaves, the most important outcome is that we built trust,” said Dr. Breanna Lathrop, Chief Operating Officer of Good Samaritan Health Center in Atlanta. “Everything else comes second to that.”
Dr. Lathrop was one of four community health leaders who shared their insights in a new Gold Human InSight Webinar panel discussion, “A Blueprint for Social Factors that Impact Health: Lessons from Community Health Centers,” sponsored by BD (Becton, Dickinson & Company). BD is a founding member of the Gold Corporate Council, a group of leading companies that support humanism in healthcare and the nonprofit Arnold P. Gold Foundation.
The other community health leaders included on the panel discussion were Dr. Kemi Alli, Chief Executive Officer of Henry J. Austin Health Center; Michael Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center; and Thomas Tighe, President and CEO of Direct Relief. Gold Foundation Chief Financial and Administrative Officer Ben Rodriguez served as the “Ignitor,” more than a moderator – this term is used to signify a person who will act as a catalyst to spark & fuel the discussion, taking the conversation to the next level with their insights.
The webinar, which is being released in an encore presentation publicly as part of National Health Center Week, was featured earlier this year as part of the Humanism & Healing: Structural Racism and Its Impact on Medicine conference, hosted by the Gold Humanism Honor Society.
The purpose of the panel was to demonstrate the role community health centers “have in both creating and maintaining a healthy community and give us an understanding of what social factors people living in underserved communities grapple with,” said Pia Pyne Miller, Senior Director for Strategy and Business Development at the Gold Foundation and Host of the Gold Human InSight Webinar series.
Throughout the panel, the importance of building trust and good relationships was stressed as absolutely essential to providing the highest quality healthcare to patients who typically come from underserved communities.
“We become part of the fabric of their lives, so when they are in need of assistance, we aren’t a stranger to them,” said Michael Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center in New Haven, CT. “We’re proud of that connection, and it helps us to lift people up.”
Dr. Kemi Alli, Chief Executive Officer of Henry J. Austin Health Center in Trenton, NJ, agreed. “Every person who walks through our doors is a member of our family,” she said.
This longstanding and hard-won trust has been essential in supporting their patients getting vaccinated against COVID-19, the panelists said. Community health centers help to remove the barriers for people to get the vaccine both logistically, by providing it in a place patients already know and feel welcomed, and also because patients feel assured that the centers are watching out for their best interests.
The panelists said that providing good healthcare means treating the whole human being. They noted that most of their patients’ health issues are connected to social and justice issues that affect so many aspects of their patients’ lives.
Dr. Alli shared the example of a children’s asthma treatment program at her organization that makes home visits.
Uncontrolled asthma “is one of the reasons many children have absences from school, and when you have chronic absenteeism you also have a poor rate of learning and education in those children. You are setting them up not to succeed,” Dr. Alli said. “So, our asthma education program is so much more than simply treating the children for asthma. It is about how to reset them on a course to be successful in school.”
Dr. Lathrop said one of her favorite innovations that her organization has made is the addition of an urban farm and teaching kitchen in the community.
“We can’t tell people to eat better in a food desert without offering solutions…to me it’s just an illustration of when you go to the community and say, ‘What’s missing?’” Dr. Lathrop said, adding that when she first began as a healthcare clinician, she was “not necessarily thinking I would be working with farmers, and now I’m wondering, ‘What was I even thinking about, doing healthcare without knowing farmers?’ ”
Because of their effectiveness, compassion, and ingenuity, “the first place we always plug in is with the community health centers,” said panelist Thomas Tighe, President and CEO of Direct Relief, a humanitarian relief organization that provides medicines and support to doctors and nurses throughout the world.
Community health centers are “very adaptable, quick on their feet, deeply committed and they do by far the best with the money they receive,” said Mr. Tighe, who was this year’s recipient of the BD Gold Community Health Innovator Award. “It makes me proud to know them and work with them.”
The Gold Human InSight Webinars are virtual innovative sessions that the Gold Foundation has hosted with its wonderful partners in humanism. The 2021 theme is “Care, Compassion, and Collaboration during the Dual Pandemic.” If you are interested in collaborating with the Gold Foundation on a webinar, please contact Pia Pyne Miller, MPH, Senior Director for Strategy and Business Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.