On December 5-7, 2018, over 650 complex care innovators from across sectors and across the country gathered in Chicago for the third annual Putting Care at the Center conference, the only annual conference on complex care in America. For three days, attendees networked, learned from other innovators, and shared how they and their colleagues are helping to transform systems and improve care for people with the most complex health and social needs.

“Complex care begins at the intersection of the healthcare and social service sectors,” said Camden Coalition CEO Kathleen Noonan in her opening remarks. “What we’re trying to do defies the expectations of the healthcare system as we know it.”

Susan Mende, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), one of the conference co-hosts for Putting Care at the Center 2018, agreed. “As we all work together and as we continue to learn, we know that improving care for the most vulnerable means we improve care for everybody.”

Putting Care at the Center 2018 opened with the launch of the Blueprint for Complex Care, a collective strategy to advance the field of complex care. The project was announced at Putting Care at the Center 2017 last November in Los Angeles, kicking off a year of interviews, research, and collaboration. The National Center, the Center for Health Care Strategies, and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) co-created the document, with support from The Commonwealth Fund, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and The SCAN Foundation.

“The field of community organizing has a basic theory of change,” said Kedar Mate, chief innovation and education officer at IHI. “People plus power equals the change that you want to create. The Blueprint begins to build the collective power we need to achieve the change we want.”

The conference’s interactive Beehive featured a set of activities designed to get input on the report from attendees, who shared some of the ways their work aligns with the Blueprint’s recommendations. If you have more feedback on the Blueprint or ideas for next steps, please share them here!

This year’s keynote address from Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of Caring Across Generations, focused on how caregivers and care recipients can come together to transform our systems of care. “The thing about the people in this room is that we know a secret—the universal need for care,” Ai-jen said. “We have to use that, because this country is in dire need of a vision we can work towards together that solves for how easily breakable we are across lines of difference.”

“I feel like all of you are extended family—part of the caring movement we’re trying to build in this country,” she said. “We need a story about who we are and what we’re for that draws a circle around all of us.”

On the “Uncertainty as the Norm” panel on Thursday, Rebecca Ramsay, CEO of Housecall Providers, spoke about her experience in Oregon turning a Medicaid 1115 Waiver denial into a successful community collaboration to address the affordable housing crisis and other social determinants of health. “We need to understand more about the political process. We need to educate ourselves,” she said. “We have to take those nos and reroute, and work collaboratively in our local regions to make those changes happen.”

On Thursday’s lunchtime “Power of Partnership” panel, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, participants discussed how partnerships between patients and providers can transform care. “We so often try to improve things without starting with the patient experience,” said Maren Batalden, associate chief quality officer and director of medical management at Cambridge Health Alliance. “We’re in need of a cultural revolution in how we listen.” RWJF is collecting stories of partnerships that have led to system transformation in their Power of Partnership (POP!) Facebook group.

Consumers of complex care services were integral to Putting Care at the Center 2018, with self-identified consumers represented on each plenary panel, presenting in eight workshop sessions, and a National Consumer Scholar cohort of 13 that included eight new members.

“It’s important to connect with the humanity of people with lived experience or all the progress we want to make is just going to be hollow,” said Stacy Stanford, health policy analyst at Utah Health Policy Project and 2017 Consumer Scholar, during the “Next generation of movement builders” plenary panel. “Disabled people, people of color, trans people, people who are intersections of all of the above—they know what they’re talking about, they’re smart, and they’re ready to lead. We need to pass the mic.”

The conference boasted 27 workshops, 62 interactive Beehive presentations, and the addition this year of a Satellite Session organized by the American Hospital Association – the most presenters of any year to date. Topics ranged from how lived experience in the criminal justice system enhances patient care to leveraging MCO partnerships with community-based organizations to safety in street medicine.

In keeping with the conference theme of Complex Care, Today and Tomorrow, many presenters focused on tools and resources that attendees could immediately apply to improve care for individuals with complex health and social needs. At “Addressing social needs across the care continuum: Practical solutions for screening, referral, and navigation,” workshop presenter Rich Porcelli, director at Health Leads, said “We want everyone to be thinking, ‘What am I going to be able to do next Tuesday?’”

As in previous years, conference attendees used social media to give real-time feedback and reactions to the conference content, engage with other participants, and share conference highlights. Over the three days of the conference, there were over 2,600 tweets using the conference hashtag, #CenteringCare18, and the live-stream of Ai-jen Poo’s keynote address on Facebook has been viewed over 1,000 times.

Next year’s conference will be November 13-15, 2019, in Memphis, Tennessee, co-hosted by Regional One Health, a health system that’s home to the oldest hospital in Tennessee. The Camden Coalition recently worked with Regional One to implement a complex care program for its most high-risk patients. Susan Cooper, senior vice president and chief integration officer at Regional One, gave the conference closing remarks.

“We need to be brave to challenge uncertainty,” Susan said. “Context is important. Interventions are local. In each of our communities, we need to harness the power of collaboration to come together and help people. How are you going to help move this work forward?”

Join us at Putting Care at the Center 2019, November 13-15 in Memphis, TN! Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know when registration opens.