Community Check-up: Discussing How to Improve Health Care in Durham

Health care discussions are front and center in Durham. The latest gathering, hosted by the Chamber on Aug. 22, brought together business and community leaders for insight into issues such as paying doctors for wellness, designing workplace wellness plans for employees, and overcoming community obstacles to health access.

“Community Check-Up: What’s Healthy for Your Bottom Line,” held at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, featured a panel discussion with four leaders in Durham’s health care scene: Kathy Higgins, vice president of Corporate Affairs at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina; Dr. Dev Sangvai, associate chief medical officer for Duke Health; William Seagroves, chief financial officer of Lincoln Community Health, and Regina Youngblood, director of Human Resources for the City of Durham. Sean Maroney, news anchor for WNCN (CBS North Carolina), moderated the discussion.

The panelists agreed that community, business, and government should work together to improve the health of the Durham community.

One way to start, according to both Higgins and Youngblood, is by understanding the health challenges of your workforce, since they are also part of the community. This could range from promoting employee health incentives such as discounted step trackers and days off, to providing them with annual health screenings.

Dr. Sangvai discussed the role of hospitals and physicians in the community, whose job should be to deliver the right care at the right time. The establishment of Accountable Care Organizations – in which providers coordinate care to meet quality and cost targets – is a leading way to ensure patients get high-quality care. Additionally, Seagroves pointed out the high rate of provider burnout, which raises the need to fix systematic issues to help providers improve care delivery.

Understanding what keeps patients from making healthy choices is an important first step to care, the panelists said. Examples of patient obstacles could include a lack of transportation for medical care, limited access to healthy food, and high copays.

The Chamber event came just two months after the Healthy Durham 2020 Summit that brought many stakeholders together to chart a path toward community health improvements. While progress is being made, Seagroves said much work remains. “We are a city of medicine but not a community of health. It is still hard for people to access quality dental and behavioral health care. But when compared to other counties, we have more parks, fewer food deserts, and more access to nutritional health.”

Higgins called for more regular and open conversations about what business and community leaders can do. “The more we can get to the table together, the more we can discuss our community health,” she said.

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