Nashville Health Care Council and NashvilleHealth Hosts Pfizer and Ascension for Conversation on Health Equity



Nashville Health Care Council and NashvilleHealth Hosts Pfizer and Ascension for Conversation on Health Equity

Dr. Bill Frist

Last Thursday, the Nashville Health Care Council and NashvilleHealth hosted "Conversations on Health Equity and Action to Eliminate Disparities: Part Three," the third in a three-part series exploring health inequity and its long-standing threat to business and community growth and vitality. The discussion was moderated by Bill Frist, M.D., former U.S. Senate Majority Leader; founder and chairman, NashvilleHealth; and partner, Cressey & Company, and featured Joseph Cacchione, M.D., EVP, clinical and network services, Ascension and Niesha Foster, vice president, product access and co-chair, Multicultural Center of Excellence, Pfizer.

Senator Frist began the program by stating that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the magnitude of health inequities in the United States. Health inequity is defined by the World Health Organization as "avoidable, unfair, or remediable differences" in health. The pandemic has also highlighted structural racism -- institutions, practices, and policies that differentially allocate resources and opportunities among racial groups. As a result of these disparities, Covid-19 mortality rates are more than twice as high in Black, Latinx, and Indigenous populations as in White populations.

Each panelist gave an overview of their organization's strategy to address health inequity, a priority that is now widely accepted as business critical. Ascension, the nation's largest not-for-profit health care system, is on the front lines of treating patients in 22 states. Pfizer Inc. is a research-based, global biopharmaceutical company, that applies science and its global resources to bring therapies to people that extend and significantly improve lives through discovery, development and manufacture of medicines and vaccines.

Both speakers agreed that the first step in alleviating health disparities is understanding the problem through data and collaboration.

"To understand the gravity of the issues, we partner with organizations and gather our own data. Just in the last 12 months, we conducted a study on 72,000 patients. We looked at factors such as income, social environment, race, and ethnicity, and identified consistent themes that need to be addressed. Results showed that 25% of patients identified at least one social determinant of health as a barrier," said Cacchione.

"We can't fix what we don't know," Foster said. "Pfizer's vast network of partnerships, on the local, national and international level, help us understand diverse communities and how to effectively partner with them. Seeing where all the issues intersect is key to making a real difference."

Though a Covid-19 vaccine is expected to be available in the U.S. soon, studies show that many people, specifically vulnerable populations, do not plan to get the vaccine.

"Building trust takes time and investment," said Foster. "At Pfizer, we have active partnerships with organizations already serving these communities and we find ways to support them. Helping them to educate their own constituencies can go a long way in making informed decisions on medical care, including vaccinations."

"Ascension is developing a strategy when it comes to Covid-19 vaccine distribution and equity. There is a framework to prioritize the most vulnerable in each market. But a large percentage of the Black and Hispanic population do not trust a vaccine," said Cacchione. "If we're going to get to health equity, we need the population to trust the medical community. And a big piece of that is cultural alignment with providers."

In conclusion, the panelists called on the audience to support health care workers, get involved with community organizations addressing social determinants of health, educate themselves on implicit bias and speak up when they see systematic failures.

"Every one of us can make a difference," Frist said. "At NashvilleHealth, we strive to be a convener for all the resources in our community to achieve a healthier city, and we invite you to be a part of creating a better tomorrow."