Paul G. Alexander, MD, MPH, executive vice president and chief health equity and transformation officer, RWJBarnabas Health, discusses how community partnerships helped ameliorate disparities in health care access and accessibility, as well as food and travel insecurities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Partnering with community health workers and organizations is key for RWJBarnabas in addressing food, transportation, and other social determinants of health amid the pandemic, said Paul G. Alexander, MD, MPH, executive vice president and chief health equity and transformation officer, RWJBarnabas Health.
In looking at community-level health inequities, what lessons did RWJBarnabas gain from the COVID-19 pandemic and how has this influenced the strategies you have helped design and implement?
COVID-19 presented an opportunity for not just our health system, but the world. And for clinicians, it was particularly challenging. I would say the pandemic is still going on to some extent. We're still facing individuals who are fearful of being in the health care environment. Employees felt stressed, many of them decided to look at alternate careers. And the best way we could help out in the midst of the height of the COVID 19 pandemic was to address food and address [the] transition from hospital to home—it was really important.
We focused on the decompression of our hospital beds and the emergency room, as well as addressing the issues of medication access and food to our patients that weren't being delivered services in their home. So, again, we really identified the organizations in the community that we could partner with.
We delivered meals, we coordinated transportation for individuals to their homes, we did follow-up visits in the homes post acute discharge from the hospital and tried to maintain communication with our case managers in the hospital and our community health workers who are in the neighborhoods where our patients live to maintain continuity, to maintain communication.
COVID-19 really illustrated what disparities exist amongst populations living with insecurities, social insecurities. Again, it made us think out of the box, in terms of how we would deliver those services that were in need. And the partnerships with the external organizations, the community-based organizations, were imperative.
Partnering with pharmacy and the delivery of medication was also critical, as well as food. We believe that food is medicine, and I think it's highly unlikely for patients to take medications if they don't have food. So, again, focusing on what we could do in the midst of the pandemic and utilizing the resources that we had available was the way in which we designed and implemented our strategies.