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Minneapolis hosts national Accelerating Health Equity Conference 

AHA chose Minneapolis for various reasons, including the examples that health care organizations in the city have set.

Ivor Horn, M.D.
Ivor Horn, M.D., director of health equity and social determinants of health at Google, discusses the role of technology in health care at a plenary session at the conference on Wednesday at the Hilton Hotel in Minneapolis.
Photo provided by Coopersmith Photography

Almost 900 people gathered in downtown Minneapolis for a conference centered on improving health outcomes and reducing gaps in care.

The attendees of the May 16-18 conference were a mix of professionals focused on improving community and population health and building partnerships, and also those in roles of diversity, equity and inclusion within hospital management, according to Nancy Myers, the vice president of leadership and system innovation at the American Hospital Association (AHA).

It’s the third annual conference; although AHA previously hosted yearly conferences bringing together healthcare professionals, in recent years, the focus has shifted to making advancements on achieving equity in health care.

“There’s so much overlap in the work, and certainly there is alignment on the goal of driving health equity, that it made sense for us to begin to think about how do we bring these two audiences together and still have content that might be unique to any person depending on what their role is,” Myers said.

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Many of the sessions looked at the role of data in advancing health equity with participants from various health systems who shared how they’ve addressed specific gaps in health care.

Bradi Granger, a professor at the Duke University School of Nursing in North Carolina, shared about an initiative that has led to a decrease in the number of people with uncontrolled hypertension in the Lincoln community health center system. She said the system serves nearly 33,000 patients a year, about 8,000 of whom have hypertension.

Durham, N.C., is part of the “Stroke Belt,” which experiences higher mortality from strokes than other regions. Monitoring blood pressure is one of the actions to prevent deadly strokes – and a gap in care exists in people being able to control their blood pressure. The Durham health system started sending patients home with self-measured blood pressure monitoring kits. Through that four-year effort, blood pressure, on average, was reduced by about 20 mmHg at the health center.

MinnPost photo by Ava Kian
It’s the third annual conference; although AHA previously hosted yearly conferences bringing together healthcare professionals, in recent years, the focus has shifted to making advancements on achieving equity in health care.
Other efforts to reduce disparities include a collaboration in Rome, N.Y. that curated 250 community events and reached 18,000 people according to Jacqueline Nelson, the president of the Rome branch of the NAACP. Nelson said those events screened 6,700 people for blood pressure and linked 179 people to primary care practitioners.

Another session focused on how to use data to measure the effectiveness of community interventions. At Swedish Hospital in North Chicago, 90% of patients come from within nine miles of the hospital. The hospital wanted to assess community needs accurately, so they looked to data. Vizient, Inc. created neighborhood-level maps of specific areas of need and found a way to quantify social needs. The Vizient Vulnerability Index looks at factors like economics, education, health care access, neighborhood conditions, housing, clean environment, social environment, transportation and public safety.

Vizient recognized that health organizations must look at all those factors to improve health outcomes.

“Planting a clinic can do an enormous amount of work,” Heather Blonsky, lead data scientist at Vizient, Inc, said. “It brings care to the patient in a way that can overcome a lot of this. But there are a hundred other things that involve more than the clinic.”

Vizient found that maternal hypertension is more common among patients from more vulnerable neighborhoods in the area. It also showed that diabetic patients from vulnerable neighborhoods were also more likely to have a lower limb amputation.

This data is part of a goal to improve the life expectancy in that area. What Vizient found will allow the hospital to target its efforts based on the particular vulnerability people are experiencing.

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Why Minneapolis?

Myers said AHA chose Minneapolis for various reasons, including city and hotel size, affordability and the examples health care organizations in the city have set.

“We put Minneapolis on our list, in part because it is the epicenter of what has been our most recent social justice movement here in the United States. And because we knew that the local health care organizations were so intimately and powerfully involved as good community anchor organizations in the rebuilding that’s ongoing within this community,” Myers said.

Attendees took field trips led by Allina Health, Children’s Minnesota, Hennepin Healthcare and M Health Fairview to look at the local programs aimed at improving community health.

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MinnPost photo by Ava Kian
Myers said that in past years about 60-70% of the attendees were frontline leaders who are often directors of community health, community engagement or diversity, equity and inclusion at their organizations. The rest of the attendees are from community-based organizations, who often partner with those frontline leaders.