By Mavis Asiedu-Frimpong

Before I started in my role as Director of National Initiatives at the Camden Coalition, I had most recently served as Assistant Director of Policy and Planning at the San Francisco Health Department. At the Health Department we were constantly launching new initiatives to serve a population that cycled through our city’s emergency departments at alarming rates, and I often wondered how common our experiences, struggles, and successes were in other communities. The partnership-building and ecosystem development work we did every day was most certainly complex care–we just didn’t call it that.

Now, as part of the National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs’ leadership team, I bring the lessons learned from my local government experience and apply them more broadly to support the field of complex care in a variety of ways. I had a hunch that the questions we grappled with in San Francisco were the same ones I would encounter at the Camden Coalition, and I was right.

My first big project at the Camden Coalition was putting together the National Center’s 2018 conference, Putting Care at the Center. It was an exercise in connecting the questions we heard over and over again in the field to the practical solutions we knew existed in communities across the country. Planning the conference was also an opportunity to assess which of these questions remain unanswered, and what role the National Center has in closing those gaps. Now that the conference is over, we’ve had time to reflect on what the process has taught us about the complex care field and incorporate that into our programs and offerings.

First, the field is hungry for technical assistance. We heard a demand for interactive conference workshops where attendees could work through problems in real time and be paired with experts who could address their specific needs. They didn’t just want to hear from others about how they achieved success—they wanted to design solutions as part of the discussions and co-create the change they needed alongside their colleagues. There was a focus on case studies that were adaptable to different circumstances and situations.

It’s also clear that the knowledge base across the field is broad and far-reaching. That’s the beauty of this emerging field—its interdisciplinary nature makes it necessarily reflective of different sectors, experiences, and points of view.

The conference theme was Complex Care, Today and Tomorrow. We viewed the workshops as the venue for “today,” answering the question “What can I bring back to my community now to advance this work?” We received applications on everything from consumer engagement strategies, to successful self-care principles for front line staff, to behavioral health integration, to family caregiver care team models. Much of the information shared in the sessions was broadly applicable level-setting information for our diverse audience.

In contrast, the Beehive was a space for “tomorrow’s innovation,” and some Beehive applications focused on specific tools to reach complex care subpopulations, such as veterans, pregnant women, and individuals with disabilities, suggesting rigorous population segmentation to be the next frontier for the field. The workshop and Beehive applications highlighted areas of need within the field, and it is exciting to have experts working on such a wide range of critical topics across the country. It will be important for us to continue collectively advancing knowledge in these areas, as well as others that will undoubtedly crop up as the field matures and progresses.

At the National Center, we play an important role as the field’s convener, and the conference is our largest mechanism for achieving this goal. When we come together to share ideas and make connections, the field is that much stronger as a result. This is the value of being part of the complex care community, and the fact that the conference continues to grow in size every year is testament to this. People enjoyed speaking with colleagues they’d known for years, and loved the opportunity to forge new connections in the workshops, Beehive sessions, and even in the hallways in between sessions.

Because we have a responsibility to create access points that encourage the kind of professional diversity that advances our field-building goals, we created conference scholarship opportunities for community health and social work professionals, as well as for complex care consumers. We received applications from across the country—even as far away as Hawaii. Having more community health workers and social workers at the conference underscored their critical importance to the field and highlighted the need to reach beyond the traditional healthcare sector in order to build strong complex care ecosystems. We also worked with partners like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Peterson Center on Healthcare to bring government employees, health systems, and organizations interested in implementation science and practice to the conference.

When we ask people what they value most about the National Center, they speak of our ability to share information. One of the most important pieces of information we shared at the conference is the Blueprint for Complex Care. Attendees were the first to gain access to the landmark document, and its public unveiling at the conference is just the beginning. We want the Blueprint for Complex Care to serve as a strategic guide that influences current and future complex care practice, and we can’t wait to hear about how it’s being implemented where you are.

Last year, our monthly newsletter articles focused on the conference, highlighting the fantastic work of our speakers and conference partners. To ensure that the field-building conversations sparked at the conference and by the Blueprint continue, we’ll feature stories about other programs and models that embody the principles outlined in the Blueprint for Complex Care every month this year.

As we forge ahead in planning for Putting Care at the Center 2019, we look forward to expanding our reach to new audiences and providing content that encourages familiar faces to dive even deeper as we work to advance the field of complex care. See you in Memphis!

Learn more about the Blueprint for Complex Care and become a Complex Care Champion

Explore the materials from last year’s conference