Some items are one size fits all but Cone Health system knows that doesn’t apply to health care outreach – which is why the giant health provider has been focusing hard these days on providing care to diverse population segments in its service area through targeted programs meant to address the specific needs of those communities.
A host of programs from Cone provide special attention to many groups – such as the African-American community, veterans, women, the LGBT community and more.
Cone’s directed outreach efforts are now drawing national attention. In 2018, for the second year in a row, the American Hospital Association cited Cone Health as an honoree for its efforts to reduce health care disparities and advance diversity and inclusion. That’s the first time any organization in the country has been recognized for the honor in back to back years.
Laura Vail, the director of the Office of Inclusion and Health Equity for Cone Health, said that, when it comes to health care and community outreach, different groups often have different needs. She said it’s important for Cone to reach those groups in ways that take into account that diversity.
“We are really all about recognizing and celebrating our differences,” Vail said of the programs Cone Health has been putting into place and fine-tuning for years.
“We take a two-pronged approached to health equity,” Vail said, adding that that includes the community programs but it also means recognizing and appreciating the diversity among the 12,000-plus people who work in the system.
“We have a pretty diverse workforce,” she said, adding that 20 percent of Cone’s employees were born outside of the US and a great deal of the system’s employees are women.
“We have an 80 percent female workforce,” Vail said.
She said Guilford County Schools might have Cone beat in terms of percentage of women working – but not many companies do.
One of the big ways the system celebrates diversity in the community is by forming “network groups” and using those to implement special programs meant to address the specific needs of certain communities.
Earlier this month, the Guilford County Health Department issued its annual State of the County’s Health Report, which listed, as one of the county’s top goals for 2019, lowering “the significant racial/ethnic disparities that persist across many health issues.”
Cone is doing its part in that regard through the community wellness initiatives that are often highly specific. In addition to groups addressing the African-American community, the LGBT community, veterans and others, Cone even recently established a network group for young professionals.
One program holds meetings at black churches and other central locations in the black community and offers health advice, flu shots and other services.
“They do a whole program around, ‘Know your numbers,’” Vail said.
Participants in the program are encouraged to know their blood pressure, cholesterol count and other vital medical stats. She said that makes it very straightforward for them to track their health.
One recent Cone program focused on the Summit Avenue area of east Greensboro, where Cone saw many residents going to the emergency room with health concerns that would have been much easier to treat in a doctor’s office weeks or months earlier.
For that, Cone Health won an award – from the Disparities Leadership Program, a program led by the Disparities Solutions Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston – for the “best overall project” addressing disparity issues. That award is given to organizations in the health field that are effectively seeking strategies to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in health care.
According to Cone, the Summit Avenue neighborhood was chosen because there were several great resources that could be connected in the effort including the McGirt-Horton Library, Peeler Recreation Center and the now closed Renaissance Community Co-op.
As part of that program, Cone held monthly healthy living classes at the library, where dieticians, nurses and other health professionals spoke on conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure and they also explained preventative measures that can be taken. The group also met at the food co-op to shop and it held exercise classes at the rec center.
A survey and other data showed that Cone saw quantifiable positive results from that program since fewer people needed follow-up care for their health concerns.
Cone maintains that community programs that encourage healthy living and disease prevention can keep people out of the emergency rooms down the line. That’s good for everyone including Cone.
Vail said that it has been particularly fulfilling working with veterans since they have done so much for the country and they seem to have such a positive response to the programs.
The health system is also sponsoring events meant to draw in the entire local community. For instance, Cone got a big crowd out to LeBauer Park in downtown Greensboro by putting on a free showing of the inspiring movie “Hidden Figures,” an award-winning true story about three African-American women at NASA who were instrumental – but underappreciated – in the space agency’s effort to launch John Glenn into orbit.
Vail said it’s important for Cone Health to reach out with events like that. It expands the effort to reach everyone.
“It’s asking the question: Who hasn’t come inside your doors yet?” Vail said.