The Connecticut Health Foundation has established a scholarship for five local people to participate in our forthcoming symposium, Community Agency & Health. The Foundation is committed to creating more access to better quality health care for people of color and underserved communities across Connecticut. I was lucky enough to catch up with Tiffany Donelson, the Foundation’s Vice President of Programs, about their work and why they’re enabling people to participate in the symposium.
Pritpal S Tamber: Hi Tiffany, thanks for making the time to speak with me. Let’s start with health equity. I know it’s front-and-center in your work.
Tiffany Donelson: Yes, health equity is front and center at the Connecticut Health Foundation. We strive to assure that all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, language or any other barriers, have access to quality healthcare – by which we mean care that integrates oral, mental, and physical health, is accountable in terms of quality and outcomes, and is affordable. We approach health equity by focusing on systems change – changing the policies and practices in coverage and the delivery of care that impact a person’s ability to access quality care when he or she needs it.
Pritpal: You’ve told me that you’re involved in some state-wide innovation work; what’s the context for that?
Tiffany: The Center for Medicaid and Medicare Innovation (CMMI) has provided several states with State Innovation Model (SIM) grants. The purpose of these grants is to aid states in transforming health care. Connecticut received a test grant from CMMI in 2014, and was the first state to have health equity as one of its primary SIM goals. Through this grant, key stakeholders across the state are hoping to transform care to make it more equitable, accessible, affordable, and better quality. The foundation was an early partner in the work investing in technical expertise in health equity to inform the plan design and to aid in the test grant application. Board, staff, fellows, and community advisory committee members are very involved in this work because this is a major change for the systems in our state, rooted in our desire to reduce health inequities.
Pritpal: That sounds big. It also sounds like lots of committees and meetings. My experience of them is lots of talk and little action; what’s been your experience?
Tiffany: Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it happens through collaboration. We have to convene a table of diverse thoughts and opinions to develop innovative and effective solutions for the major issues facing our communities. The trick is holding those at the table accountable. Committees and meetings work best where there is trust, clear objectives and personal accountability. We have to create the environment where all voices are heard and everyone has equal input towards developing solutions to shared problems.
Pritpal: That’s a fair point. We call that ‘purposeful empathy’ and it takes time to build. Do you think things are heading in the right direction?
Tiffany: This is a work in progress. We are getting better at convening key stakeholders, including an increase in the number of consumers at the table. We still have some ways to go. In addition to still needing to increase the diversity of thought at the table and the diversity of people in decision-making roles, we haven’t yet reached the point where all voices are heard equally. It will take us some time to get there.
Pritpal: Fascinating. Your work is all about Connecticut but you’re sending people to our symposium in California; why?
Tiffany: Sometimes it’s good to get people out of their comfort zone and into a new environment. It often opens the minds of participants to have new conversations and discover new possibilities for action. So many health care reform innovations are taking place nationwide and it’s important to take the time to learn from others, both the best practices as well as the mistakes. Our hope is that our Connecticut-based team develops new rules around collaboration by being in a different environment.
Pritpal: I love that. I know you’re hoping to participate too; what are you hoping to get out of it?
Tiffany: As you know, systems change is not easy. Again, we need the voices and opinions of many to make the right health equity changes. Health equity change happens at the intersections of policies, programs, practices, communities, social determinants of health…the list is long. We want to bring together some of these Connecticut stakeholders in a different environment, to continue to ignite collaboration and change.
Pritpal: That sounds quite a challenge. I hope the symposium is able to help. Thank you so much for making the time to speak with me.
Tiffany: Thank for you speaking with me as well, and asking such insightful questions. I look forward to the symposium in May!
We’re pleased to hear how our focus on community agency resonates with those working with State Innovation Model grants to transform health care. And we’re pleased to hear that leaders in Connecticut are recognizing the need to create the space needed to listen to new voices – especially those of community residents.