By Mark Humowicki, Senior Director of National Initiatives
In 2016, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, AARP, and Atlantic Philanthropies, the Camden Coalition announced the formation of a new “National Center.” We didn’t have a name, a website, or a strategic plan, but nevertheless we immediately organized a series of open-invitation town halls to start to imagine this new initiative. Old friends and new came to debate possible names, to identify important activities and stakeholders in our emerging field, and to plan a national conference, which included our first cohort of Consumer Scholars. Our early supporters spread the word to friends and colleagues, and quickly, with the support of many partners across the country, the National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs became the professional home for the complex care field.
Five years later, with a Blueprint, a set of core competencies, and more under our belt, we commissioned a formal evaluation of our work from Mathematica, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. To evaluate the National Center, Mathematica researchers spoke to complex care thought leaders and program participants about our strategy, our programs, and the future direction of the National Center. Based on these interviews as well as a document review, the evaluators identified four key strategies and assessed our progress on and value in each of them.
- Support application of best practices;
- Conceptually define the field of complex care;
- Promote underrepresented leadership in complex care; and
- Grow and organize the complex care community.
The final evaluation report describes some of the myriad ways that the National Center provides value to the complex care field, and also includes a wide range of ideas and opportunities to take the work further in the next five years. Such findings include:
- The National Center distinguishes itself through its inclusive and effective approach to building a community of cross-sector, diverse complex care stakeholders, particularly people with lived experience of complex health and social needs.
- Stakeholders highly value the National Center’s annual conference, technical assistance, and Consumer Scholars program.
- The National Center could provide more resources targeted to community-based organizations.
It’s remarkable to reflect on how much has changed for us and the field itself over the last five years:
- Complex care has begun to permeate the lexicon with more and more complex care programs and employment opportunities popping up across the country.
- As an example of our field’s reach, the phrase “complex health and social needs” shows up over 20 times in the Future of Nursing 2020-2030 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
- Nearly every state now requires collection of social needs data as part of its Medicaid program, and states like North Carolina, Massachusetts, California, and New York are leading the way with innovations designed to bridge the gap between healthcare and social services.
- Care management of high-cost patients is ubiquitous, with organizations now sometimes struggling with how to coordinate the coordinators.
Yet, while significant amounts of private equity have gone into both technology- and delivery-focused startups that address a wide range of health and social needs, our field still lacks sustainable sources of financing and is still building the evidence base and standardizing best practices for how to be most effective. The COVID pandemic and the increase in calls for racial justice over the past year have made equity a top priority for our field and others, perhaps providing a moment for complex care to advocate for sustainable solutions to the disparities we see across sectors. The opportunities for expanding and/or hyperfocusing our work are numerous, and the time to do so is now.
As we embark on our next five years, we once again look to those in the complex care field for guidance. What do you value from the National Center that you’d like to see more of? What is missing? What messages and strategies should the National Center, and the field of complex care that it leads, pursue to ensure that people with complex health and social needs are able to access person-centered, high quality, cross-sector services and supports to help them lead fuller and healthier lives?
The work of building the field of complex care requires all of our efforts. Please join us on June 23 at 1 pm ET for an open discussion about the results of the Mathematica evaluation, what the field needs next, and how the Camden Coalition can support its growth.