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March 17, 2022

Hospitals, insurers and colleges join forces to reduce Philly's health inequities

The Accelerate Health Equity initiative aims to address racial disparities in heart disease, colorectal cancer, obesity and other areas of concern

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Accelerate Health Equity Philly Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

Accelerate Health Equity seeks to reduce health inequities in Philadelphia by focusing on racial disparities in heart disease, colorectal cancer, diabetes and obesity, among other areas of concern.

Ten Philadelphia area health insurers, hospital systems and medical schools have teamed with the city to launch an effort to address health inequities in the city.

Accelerate Health Equity plans to run pilot programs to address Philadelphia residents' health issues, measure the programs' effectiveness and expand the ones that perform well. The initiative will display its overall effectiveness in addressing 16 "health-equity challenge areas" on a web page it's calling the "Philadelphia Health Equity Dashboard." It also will post the results of its pilot programs on the dashboard.

The "challenge areas" include heart disease, colorectal cancer, and obesity and diabetes, which are all more prevalent among the city's Black population. They also include housing and food access, community violence and the percentage of children living in poverty – factors considered among the social determinants of health. 

The participants in the effort are health insurers AmeriHealth Caritas and Independence Blue Cross; the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Jefferson Health, Main Line Health, Penn Medicine, Temple Health and Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic health care systems; and Drexel University and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

"I believe the plan is to involve more organizations over time that are committed to working on these very important causes," Main Line Health President and CEO Jack Lynch said.

The impetus for the effort came from Philadelphia's consistently poor showing in the County Health Rankings put out annually by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Population Health Institute. In the 2021 edition, Philadelphia ranked last among the 67 Pennsylvania counties in health outcomes, defined as how long its residents live and how healthy they are. Delaware County ranked 22nd while Chester, Montgomery and Bucks counties ranked first, fourth and fifth, respectively.

The health care industry has long recognized that health inequity is a problem, but the increased focus on racism in the U.S. resulting from the killing of George Floyd, combined with the disparate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on different segments of the population, has made the general public more aware of it.

As of March 10, Black people had 1.1 times the COVID-19 cases, 2.5 times the COVID hospitalizations and 1.7 times the COVID deaths that white people did, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hispanic or Latino people had 1.5 times the cases, 2.3 times the hospitalizations and 1.1 times the deaths that white people did.

The demonstrations after Floyd's killing and concerns about the pandemic also sparked the discussions that led to Accelerate Health Equity, according to Erica Dixon, its project director.

"Independence Blue Cross and a team at Penn Medicine came together with the goals of creating a health equity dashboard, setting research priorities, implementing pilot projects, sharing evidence, and building an implementation playbook and dissemination plan," Dixon said.

Accelerate Health Equity has no centralized budget or funding mechanism, she said. Instead, each participant is contributing its own programs for increasing health equity, some of which had begun prior to early 2021, when the work to create Accelerate Health Equity started. Those programs include:

• Housing Smart, a Temple Health program focusing on providing housing and support services to people without housing
• Closing the Gap, a partnership between Jefferson Health and Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation that looks at social determinants of health that impact cardiovascular health outcomes in low-resource communities
• Keystone Connection to Wellness, a project of Independence Blue Cross, AmeriHealth Caritas and Project HOME focused on maternal health outcomes
• The Penn Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease Risk Reduction Program, which is meant to reduce heart-attack risk
• Together For West Philadelphia, an initiative of Main Line Health and Trinity Mid-Atlantic to maximize the impact of health equity in West Philadelphia

The initiative is focused on Philadelphia, but most of the participants also serve areas outside the city. The knowledge they gain from it will benefit groups throughout the region that traditionally have been underserved by health care systems, including racial minorities, LGBTQ people and people with low incomes. If Accelerate Health Equity is successful, it will enable its participants to improve their service to those groups, regardless of where they’re located, Lynch said.

Accelerate Health Equity "is intended to bring together all the big health system providers into a collaborative that will leverage each other's expertise and experience to cross-pollinate (ideas) and multiply the impact that each of us can have," he said.

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