Last week, the National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs welcomed over 600 innovators from across the country to sunny Los Angeles for the second annual Putting Care at the Center conference. Consumers, providers, administrators, researchers, policymakers, and many others joined the National Center and conference co-host Kaiser Permanente to help coalesce the movement and further the field of complex care.
What attendees had in common was a desire to build a better, more compassionate, less fragmented healthcare system for the most vulnerable consumers. This shared bond is what makes Putting Care at the Center “like a family reunion,” noted National Center Senior Director Mark Humowiecki in his opening remarks.
“There have been pockets of this work for a long time in lots of different sectors,” said Gretchen Alkema, vice president of policy and communications at The SCAN Foundation, during the first conference plenary. “So many populations are experiencing vulnerability— we need to shift the lens and transform the care delivery system.”
A major theme of the conference was that individuals with complex health and social needs must be at the center of designing this new field of care. On the consumer leadership panel, Glenn Martin, founder, and president of JustLeadershipUSA, drew parallels between complex care and the criminal justice reform movement. “Too often, the people closest to the solution are farthest from power and resources,” he said. “Who has thought more about criminal justice than those who have sat in cells?”
Dennis Heaphy, Policy Analyst at Disability Policy Consortium, agreed. “Unless we’re at the table from the beginning, and there every step of the way, we’re not going to change the system in a meaningful way.”
Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services was Thursday’s keynote speaker, bringing a national health policy lens to the event. “We have to invest in the energy of the American public to build the will for change,” he said. “As a country, we can’t afford to go back and forth every election cycle. We have to build [our healthcare system] from the community up instead of from the top down.”
Friday’s agenda kicked off with keynote speaker America Bracho, chief executive director of Latino Health Access, talking about the work of bringing consumers into leadership roles and empowering communities to make a change. “We are building our own power,” she said. “If you welcome the invitation to go deeper, it’s impossible to miss the disparity. It’s not a complex patient, but a patient who has to confront complexity, and a lot of complexities are collective, not just individual.”
Ms. Bracho pointed to the absurdity of treating isolated medical conditions without addressing the patient’s larger social context. “How do you fight injustice if you are only talking about glucose?” she asked. “I invite you to commit… If we are fragmented as providers we will not be able to solve this problem.”
The conference brought together a panel of veteran activists to discuss movement-building with examples from parallel social movements. Andrew Morris-Singer, president and founder of Primary Care Progress, whose work in primary care is informed by his history as an activist for gay rights and marriage equality, noted that social movements are themselves a form of healing. “There’s something happening in a social movement that is therapeutic for participants,” he said.
Putting Care at the Center also featured over a dozen different workshops, from addressing the opioid epidemic to evaluating social and economic interventions to how the music industry can teach us to better collaborate with health care divas. At the CoDesign workshop, led by staff from Kaiser Permanente, some of the conference’s 24 consumer scholars worked together with providers and others to design ideal care plans for patients with complex health and social needs.
Like last year, this year’s conference also featured a “Beehive” where attendees could learn from each other through conversations with experts, poster sessions, a tool and technology exchange, and more.
This year’s Beehive also featured the launch of the Complex Care Blueprint project, a joint project of the National Center, the Center for Health Care Strategies, and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. The Blueprint will be a yearlong project to map the current and potential players in the complex care field and to distill the priorities and goals of the movement. At the conference, participants drew up their own blueprints with their thoughts on the core tenets of complex care, the biggest challenges they have experienced, priority areas of focus, goals, and who they think is missing from the conversation.
“Everyone in this room needs to recommit to designing the systems we know can be responsive in the way we need them to be,” said Ken Coburn, CEO and medical director of Health Quality Partners, in his closing reflections.
“You all are the greatest asset we have as a field,” said Mark Humowiecki. “I’m looking forward to continuing to build a field and a movement together.