CVS Health launches initiative with Meharry Medical College, Sinai Chicago aiming to reduce disparities in marginalized communities

CVS Health has created the Community Equity Alliance, an initiative aimed at addressing barriers to care in underserved communities.

The initiative, launching this month, was established to help make healthcare more accessible and to decrease health disparities. The first institutions to join the initiative are Meharry Medical College, Sinai Chicago and Wayne State University, which will, among other efforts, gather and share data with CVS Health on local community needs.

CVS Health is funding each partner for locally tailored initiatives and will create a space for alliance members to share best practices and lessons learned. Each initiative is different, because there are different resources and needs in each community, executives said. The company will consider additional partners for the future.

“This is really about partnerships. It’s about elevating the lived experiences in communities and about elevating the community health worker workforce,” Joneigh Khaldun, M.D., vice president and chief health equity officer of CVS Health, told Fierce Healthcare.

When choosing partners, it was “really important to partner with institutions that had a longstanding history of supporting and engaging with underserved communities,” Khaldun explained. “We knew they had those close connections already and they had shared goals and values when it comes to supporting the communities that they’re in.”

With support from CVS Health, Meharry Medical College, one of the country’s oldest and largest historically Black academic health centers, will recruit and train community health workers to incorporate into primary care teams. Workers will be compensated. The goal is to increase the diversity of local clinicians and help reduce health disparities in heart and mental health. Community health workers will also partner with community-based organizations to provide health education and resources to marginalized communities. The college will conduct a continuing education program for healthcare workers focused on the patient-centered medical home and how to work with local organizations.

“Meharry Medical College and CVS Health are establishing an apprenticeship pathway for community health workers interested in community-based nursing that will strengthen and extend health care services to medically underserved and rural communities in Tennessee,” Pat Matthews-Juarez, Ph.D., professor and senior vice president for strategic initiatives and innovation at Meharry Medical College, said in a press release

Meanwhile, Sinai Chicago, a nonprofit health system, will focus on engaging the community in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago, providing residents with tailored health and social resources to address health disparities. The focus in particular will be on heart and mental health. The organization will also recruit community stakeholders—known as block leaders—to become community health workers. Part of the initiative’s aim is to understand social determinants of health and help improve patients’ care experience. “It’s really about capacity-building,” Khaldun said. “It’s not about a one-and-done training.

In Chicago, CVS Health will also be tracking how many Aetna members are connected to services through the initiative. 

Wayne State University’s Center for Health Equity and Community Knowledge in Urban Populations (CHECK-UP) will convene a coalition of community stakeholders to elevate community voices and reduce health disparities in Detroit. The public research university will also train faculty, staff and community members on best practices in community-engaged research and expand opportunities for skill-building for community health workers. 

“Strengthening relationships in the community and training community leaders will develop grassroots avenues to further our work to improve the health of the people of Detroit,” M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State, said in the press release. 

To track progress of these initiatives, CVS Health devised specific outcomes and measures, Khaldun said. Some of the key ones include the number of workers that are trained and integrated into healthcare settings and the number of clinicians and researchers trained on best practices. 

“As we learn about what’s needed in these communities we will take that back into our own product services and how we think about our work,” Khaldun said, “and it will inform how we show up in these communities.”