Many thanks to the audience of 75  that joined us at MATTER on June 30. We heard from a distinguished group of panelists as they discussed new approaches to community health. The panel included:

  • Jay Bhatt, Chief Health Officer, Illinois Hospital Association; former Deputy Commissioner, Chicago Department of Public Helath
  • Raul Garza, President & CEO, Aunt Martha’s, a large network of healthcare clinics and social services
  • Clarita Santos, Senior Director of Community Health Initiatives, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois
  • Robert Winn, Associate VP of Community-Based Practice, University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System
  • Ariana Klitzner, VP of Provider Services, AVIA Health innovation (moderator)

We started by asking the panel to define “community health.” Clarita Santos from Blue Cross Blue Shield Illinois offered the following:

Then, we took an initial consensus on the core question: is there a business case for community health? Or is it mostly mission-driven? By a show of hands, the majority of the audience believed that there would be a solid business case for community health in the next 3-5 years.

The panelists broadly agreed that a business case was emerging. Clarita Santos believed that the purpose of philanthropic dollars was to provide the resources to test-drive community health interventions that could drive cost savings.

Robert Winn from University of Illinois and Raul Garza of Aunt Martha’s reflected on the challenges in directing patients to appropriate levels of care. How do you figure out whether urgent care is a more appropriate choice than the ED? Raul Garza talked about a pilot program at Aunt Martha’s, which places a health clinic inside a conventional emergency department.

As health systems continue to move down the road to population health, they are reducing hospital admissions to the point that some hospitals have many empty beds. We will need to think about new ways to deliver healthcare, in different settings than we’re used to. The panelists touched on different ideas to deliver care through community partnerships. BCBS IL works with Sinai Hospital in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, deploying community health workers to work with diabetic patients. Dr. Winn noted that civic leaders need to be re-engaged as partners in healthcare, especially at the neighborhood level.

Throughout the entire panel, the theme that resonated with every answer was that health is something that happens everywhere. Not just at a clinic, not just at a hospital. The future of healthcare is in people’s communities, neighborhoods, streets, and homes.