By Christine O’Sullivan, IBM Executive Architect at IBM Client Center Montpellier, Member of IBM Academy of Technology
Writing this article on March 8th (International Women’s Day) and as the IBM Women in Technology leader for France, working in an industry where women are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology (17% of women at my workplace), I’d like to highlight women’s engagement and the role models I met in the Durham-IBM Health Corps project. Michelle, Gina and Pam are three very talented women, and each of them is bringing incredible value to the mission of improving community and population health in Durham.
My first interaction with the Durham stakeholders took place at the kick off event, where I had the chance to talk during roundtable discussions with a group of 6 motivated and mission-driven women from the Durham Department of Health, Duke School of Nursing, NPCC Medicaid, Duke Center for Community and Population Health Improvement and Diaper Bank of North Carolina. They provided me with key insights on the current situation and existing challenges in population health improvement. Michelle Old, Executive Director and Founder of the Diaper Bank of North Carolina, was one of them. The Diaper Bank aims to ensure that families receive hygiene products they need by working with established family-support organizations to distribute diapers to low-income families and those in greatest need.
Michelle decided to start the bank following a personal experience when her child was hospitalized and when going through 15-20 diapers a day, she realized how terrible the situation of parents could be when they can’t afford to pay for diapers. Making the decision to create the diaper bank had a big impact on their job and on her family life as she decided to quit her job to dedicate her time to this new mission.
Michelle offered us the opportunity to visit the Diaper Bank site and I want to testify how key, impressive and successful the work of Michelle and the Diaper Bank team are to ensure that families can cover essential needs that impact their health.
Among the impressive list of interviews and visits we had in the first two weeks of our project, I had the true privilege to meet with Gina Upchurch, RPh, MPH, founder and executive director of Senior PharmAssist (founded in 1994) at the Durham Center for Senior Life. Senior PharmAssist helps seniors with limited incomes improve the quality of their lives via medication payment and connecting them to the services needed to remain independent. Health insurance literacy is critical and the organization helps Medicare beneficiaries understand and maximize their medical and prescription coverage. Listening to Gina, it’s apparent that organizations such as Senior PharmAssist have a very critical and outstanding role in population health improvement. Gina and the Senior PharmAssist team help seniors in taking their medication, maintaining their ability to perform tasks and to stay independent with concrete outcomes like a decline in the rate of any hospitalizations.
If you are making a stop at the Center for Senior Life you will be met by all the senior smiley faces in this very lively place! (And you can watch Gina’s remarks at the closing event for IBM Health Corps here.)
Third, I’ll talk about Pam Maxson, PhD, Director of Operations for the Duke Center for Community and Population Health Improvement. We were very fortunate to have Pam as our sponsor and focal point in the Duke team. Pam is an impressive and very knowledgeable person on population health. In addition to bringing value and insights to our work, her authentic community engagement and experience were a true asset to this project and a door opener to working with the key organizations in Durham. Her kindness, generosity and openness made the difference in integrating the IBM Health Corps team in the Durham ecosystem, in embarking and fostering collaboration between all the organizations.
Technology and tools are an important foundation, as the Durham community needs a platform to share data, to improve connectivity among stakeholders, to provide key functions (such as a global catalog of resources, referral and analytics capabilities and new population-level care management), and deepen impact for the community.
But the success of the on-going work and the possible evolution also clearly rely on the quality and capacity of everyone in these organizations to deliver services to community members, and to connect and coordinate to achieve better outcomes.
Above all, this Health Corps project is about people, with people and for people:
- About people who are not only patients but also individuals whose health are affected by social and environmental conditions
- With people who belong to many organizations representing the healthcare system, social services and the communities’ members, engaged to improve population health in Durham, pointing their efforts in the direction of creating a collaborative system that creates health as opposed to dealing reactively to sickness
- For people, requiring assistance to improve their living conditions, health and well-being
We interacted with many people committed to the mission of community and population health improvement: interviewing, listening to the different organizations, and visiting community sites (including the Diaper Bank, Lincoln Community Health Center, Senior PharmAssist, Department of Health, Alliance Behavioral Health) to understand the requirements, the on-going effort and the challenges. We also organized workshops, using design thinking methods to facilitate the interaction and collaboration between the different organizations, acting as a catalyst to leverage all the great on-going work and to continue building trust. It has been a great opportunity to work with awesome women (Dr. Ebony Boulware, Michelle Lyn, Joanne Pierce, Gayle Harris…) and awesome men (Dr. Eugene Washington, Dr. Angeloe Burch, Jeff Quinn, Fred Johnson…) mobilized to improve population health.
It is the passion and drive of those working in health that leads to disruption and innovation.
Meeting with amazing and brilliant people from the communities based organizations and Durham health stakeholders has been a gift for me. I believe it is also the cornerstone for the success of the population improvement project.
Thanks to the entire team who let us join their journey, to the exceptional women and men who are making a difference in community and population health improvement!
Christine O’Sullivan was a part of the IBM Health Corps team, a philanthropic program, which worked with the Duke Center for Community and Population Health Improvement, city and county of Durham, and many community based organizations for 3 weeks in February 2017 to help improve population health. The focus was to develop a framework to map community health and health equity improvement efforts across Durham County (and within Duke), and to measure the collective impact of efforts on health across the geographic region. Read more here.