Fierce JPM Week: Cityblock's Ajayi on how to build from COVID's spotlight on health disparities

One of the major lessons to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic? We are all interconnected, including in our health, said Toyin Ajayi, M.D., co-founder and president of Cityblock Health.

Speaking Thursday at Fierce JPM Week, Ajayi said many consumers have an individualistic view of healthcare, thinking that if they're covered and able to get their regular checkups, they'll stay healthy. The pandemic, however, has called that into question.

"The reality that COVID has shown us is that we're so interconnected that many's health is completely interconnected to your health," Ajayi said.

Cityblock Health is a value-based provider of care to Medicaid enrollees as well as low-income Medicare beneficiaries. It currently serves about 100,000 members in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Washington, D.C.


As the provider treats some of the most vulnerable patients in the country, Ajayi said the team is intimately familiar with the health disparities that have taken center stage in the industry conversation because of COVID. 

"It's incumbent on all of us to think about this and to think about how interconnected we are, and to fund safety nets and to expand Medicaid to ensure that our neighbors have access to healthcare," she said.

However, while the national conversation around health disparities is louder than ever, Ajayi said there are still areas that are underdiscussed. For example, kidney care and dialysis disproportionately affect people of color and low-income patients, issues that were amplified further under the pandemic.

Another example, behavioral health issues, are a significant challenge in rural areas, where access to treatment is a major hurdle.

But Ajayi said while there are a number of examples of areas where there's still plenty of work to be done, the industry can't get bogged down in conversations about individual needs and must instead acknowledge that these are systemic issues that should be tackled with that approach.

"The evidence is overwhelming that the disparities impact every single aspect of our healthcare ecosystem," Ajayi said.