Examining Initiatives Addressing Mental Health, Care Disparities in Underserved Communities

Several initiatives help to provide free clinical research and education to promote diversity and inclusion in clinical trials, as well as to spotlight and destigmatize mental health issues, noted Angela Colon-Mahoney, MS, Otsuka America Pharmaceutical Inc.

Several corporate initiatives are working to provide free clinical research and education to promote diversity and inclusion in clinical trials, as well as spotlight and destigmatize mental health issues across diverse populations nationwide, said Angela Colon-Mahoney, MS, vice president of People and Business Services for Otsuka America Pharmaceutical Inc.


AJMC®: Hello, I'm Matthew Gavidia. Today on the MJH Life Sciences’ Medical World News, The American Journal of Managed Care® is pleased to welcome Angela Colon-Mahoney, vice president of People and Business Services for Otsuka America Pharmaceutical Inc. is pleased to welcome Angela Colon-Mahoney, vice president of People and Business Services for Otsuka America Pharmaceutical Inc.

Great to have you on, Angela. Can you just introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your work?

Colon-Mahoney: Thank you so much, it's great to be here. I head People and Business Services for Otsuka, and we're really focused on bringing about the best in terms of mental health—in the renal space as well. And we're very committed to our patients and to serving their needs.

AJMC®: Can you speak on how your organization has addressed several prominent issues that have been spotlighted in the past year, particularly issues of mental health and disparity in availability of health care services among underserved communities?

Colon-Mahoney: Absolutely. This is near and dear to us. We've established a number of patient support programs, and overall, our commitment is strong. We look at really providing access and making sure that those patients can benefit from our medicines. We took a lot of action. We've expanded our patient assistance program to provide our medications for free to those patients in the United States that have been impacted by COVID-19 [coronavirus disease 2019], just making sure that there is continuity of care.

I can also highlight a few of the corporate initiatives that we're doing to help improve access to treatment, especially in underserved communities. And really, we are committed in terms of being this corporate sponsor, of the Journey to Better Health Consortium. The consortium drives several awareness campaigns called AWARE for All.

This is free clinical research [and] education, and it includes free health screenings, informational exhibits, and it's really local physician and patient speakers with a goal to promote clinical trial participation research, advocating for diversity and inclusion in clinical trials. In addition to AWARE, we've also joined a cross-sponsor collaborative. I. It's focused on D&I [diversity and inclusion] in clinical trials, and it's comprised of other pharmaceutical companies, because bringing forth something that's cocreated and actionable in terms of solutions is where we really want to be. And together we have this opportunity to synergize and really look at that same challenge, which is diversity and inclusion in our clinical trials.

Also, something very near and dear to us, and this is in 2020, we formed the Sozosei Foundation, and that is a US-based private charitable foundation. It's committed to the health and well-being of our communities, especially for underserved patients having mental health issues. It's led by Bill Carson, MD; he's the chairman of the board of directors for Sozosei Foundation and also for Otsuka Pharmaceutical Development and Commercialization.

Since its inception, the Sozosei Foundation has donated almost a $1 million now in grants to community-based organizations as a part of this broader commitment that we have to promote public awareness and education of health care issues.

AJMC®: Expanding on some of the services you just referenced, your organization is one of the leading sponsors of Well Beings’ Youth Mental Health Project and its upcoming 2020 to 2022 virtual Well Beings tour. Can you discuss what this initiative is and what core messages are at the forefront of this campaign?

Colon-Mahoney: Absolutely. The premise is storytelling. Storytelling unites us, teaches us, it gives us hope, and we are so grateful to be a part of this initiative to destigmatize mental health through storytelling. Our sponsorship includes a PBS documentary series, Hiding in Plain Sight. The executive producer is Ken Burns, and it focuses solely on mental health issues—from anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, suicide, addiction—and the Well Beings campaign debuts with the Youth Mental Health project. And that's the voice of youth in America.

Diverse groups from around the country are going to participate, and it features a 24-city tour where teachers, counselors, our young folks really dealing with this can discuss topics around mental health, look at resources, [and] look at youth-focused engagement and support systems, which is super important.

We wanted to do this in person, and the tour is going to be virtual, but we are hoping for in-person depending on the market and the current state of our public health concerns at the time.

AJMC®: Lastly, do you have any other concluding thoughts?

Colon-Mahoney: So, 2020, just being reflective, it's shone a bright light on the critical need to improve D&I; this is in many ways. I will say over the past several years for Otsuka, we have shown a commitment to increasing diversity in the workforce, making sure that we're giving equal voice and opportunity, no matter creed, race, gender, color. And now we have an even greater emphasis to do this.

We're going to continue critical partnerships too. WOCIP, which is Women of Color in Pharma, was founded in 2015 by our own Charlotte Jones Burton. She leads our clinical development on the nephrology side, and this really focuses on empowerment of women in their professional development in health care.

Then, also, we're a sponsor of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, and we're going to continue that as well. But, bringing in diversity, it's the proverbial of, if you do that, there's diversity of thought as well, and that is so important into how we're pivoting and accelerating in everything that we're doing to make sure that we are continuing to serve our patients, serve our communities, and evolve our medicines in the world and in our approach. So, it seems like something we've been talking about for forever, but it really is the foundation to how we are thinking and doing things differently in the world.

AJMC®: To learn more, visit our website at AJMC.com. I’m Matthew Gavidia, thanks for joining us!