Partners In Health Formalizes Long-Term Commitment to Health Equity Work in United States

PIH-US to focus on strengthening community health systems, workforces  

Posted on Oct 8, 2021

Community health outreach worker Osman López Hernández (right) speaks with Maria Escutia at her home about COVID-19 vaccinations and offers masks, hand sanitizer, and other helpful medical information in Immokalee, Fla.
Community health outreach worker Osman López Hernández (right), from the Healthcare Network, a PIH-US partner, speaks with Maria Escutia at her home about COVID-19 vaccinations, along with offering masks, hand sanitizer, and other helpful medical information in Immokalee, Fla.
Photo by Scott McIntyre for PIH

Partners In Health has officially formalized its U.S. arm, Partners In Health United States (PIH-US).

What began as a time-bound initiative in response to a spiraling public health crisis has now catalyzed a long-term commitment to reimagining community health systems in the U.S.--a fundamental component of PIH’s mission to realizing health as a human right. With a visionary investment from The Audacious Project, PIH launched the United States Public Health Accompaniment Unit to support pandemic response in some of the hardest-hit areas in the country through contact tracing, connecting patients and families to vital resources like food and housing, and accessing lifesaving vaccines. PIH-US will build on the infrastructure and lessons learned over the last 18 months during the COVID-19 pandemic to advance a long-term vision of building stronger public health systems, a more robust community health workforce, and a more just health system overall.

“When Partners In Health launched its U.S. COVID-19 response in March 2020, we called upon our experience fighting epidemics and strengthening health systems around the world,” said PIH CEO Dr. Sheila Davis. “This work has laid the foundation for a long-term arm of Partners In Health that will focus on strengthening U.S. community health systems and, ultimately, shift the paradigm of public health towards a more inclusive and equitable redistribution of health resources.”

Unlike many of the countries where PIH works around the world, health care in the U.S. is abundant and heavily resourced. But people of color and the poor are systematically excluded from those resources and, in many parts of the U.S., there exists a 20-year gap in life expectancy between low-income communities of color and their wealthy white counterparts. U.S. health systems are built to maximize the delivery of profitable health care rather than to sustain the health and well-being of communities. When COVID-19 hit the U.S. in early 2020, these inequities were laid bare, and the devastating consequences of our fragmented health system became even more apparent.

Seeking to rectify that imbalance, PIH-US works alongside public health departments and community organizations to set shared health and racial equity agendas and provide technical advising and operational support to deliver on those commitments. PIH-US distills scientific evidence and on-the-ground experience to mobilize funding, advance policy change at the local, state, and federal levels, and lay the groundwork for stronger community health systems across the country.

PIH-US By the numbers

As partners shift from emergency COVID-19 response to rebuilding U.S. health and social systems, PIH-US is supporting their evolving and emergent needs, with a focus on the following three priority areas:

Strengthening Public Health Departments for the Future

Since April 2020, PIH-US has supported the Newark Department of Health & Community Wellness to monitor and analyze test positivity rates and COVID-19 clusters, estimate COVID-19 workforce needs, inform reopening and response policies, and stand up a care resource coordination program which has connected more than 8,500 Newarkers to resources for safe isolation and quarantine. We also supported the city’s efforts to expand vaccination and bring vaccines directly to residents through static and pop-up sites.

As Newark moves beyond emergency COVID-19 response to focus on the greatest drivers of excess mortality and morbidity, we are helping to support long term public health planning that focuses on building back stronger and mobilizing resources to ensure sustained commitments to Newark’s ambitious health equity goals.

Investing in Community Health Workers as a Core Component of Public Health

In North Carolina, PIH-US has partnered with community-based organizations and the Department of Health and Human Services to strengthen contact tracing and case investigation; expand care resource coordination; and establish more equitable vaccine access. Now, PIH-US, is working closely with the state’s DHHS to assist the expansion of a successful community health worker program from 55 to all 100 counties statewide with more robust community relationships and connections to social supports.

As of August 2021, North Carolina CHWs had reached over 465,000 people with vaccine education, supported over 1,900 vaccination events, and scheduled over 30,000 individuals to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Building Collaborative Infrastructure that Serves as the Cornerstone of a More Resilient Health System

The Chicagoland Vaccine Partnership (CVP), supported by PIH-US, brings together a coalition of 160 community-based organizations, public health experts, government and philanthropists committed to closing health equity gaps. As the pandemic highlighted many glaring inequities in Chicagoland’s public health and social infrastructure, the CVP supported community-led engagement and vaccine access among Chicagoland's most vulnerable communities. The CVP worked with local funders to provide rapid response grants that allowed organizations that had focused on mitigating youth violence in pockets of the city to pivot and conduct vaccine outreach in those same neighborhoods. Similarly, organizations that ran food pantries and youth programs were funded so that people could get vaccine information and social support at places they knew and trusted. The team also partnered with Malcolm X City College and the Chicago Department of Public Health to offer a free online course that trained more than 3,000 community members to speak to their neighbors about vaccination. The CVP used grants and convening to expand the role of community organizations in health crisis response. This work has led to thousands of vaccinations and provides a cohort of community leaders who can serve as the backbone of more equitable response to health emergencies in the future.

In addition to embedded advising teams, PIH-US also includes a Learning Impact Team that provides up-to-date public health guidance, protocols, and research made available to peer organizations and community leaders throughout the country. And the U.S. Advocacy Team works with lawmakers in the top ranks of government to develop and adopt policies that lead to stronger public health systems that meet the needs of under resourced, neglected communities.

“This crisis has offered an inflection point to reimagine U.S. health and social systems,” said Katie Bollbach, executive director of PIH-US. “At this critical moment, PIH-US is committed to accompanying visionary public health and community leaders to rebuild community-based health systems that work to repair generations of harm inflicted through systemic disinvestment and structural racism, and to attain true health equity in this country.”

PIH-US: Where We Work
PIH-US will continue to deepen commitments with existing partners in Alabama; Chicago; Immokalee; Newark, N.J.; New Bedford, Mass.; North Carolina; and Pima County, Ariz., to advance health equity into the future. 
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