The United States of Care team members continued our national listening tour by visiting North Carolina on May 9 for a quick but full day of meetings.
A highlight of our visit was spending time with Founder’s Council Member Natalie Weaver. Natalie is a powerful advocate for children with complex medical needs, including her daughter, Sophia, and she has used her voice to highlight the critical role that Medicaid plays in the lives of children and families. She is the co-founder of Advocates for Medically Fragile Kids, an organization that strives to preserve the rights of children like Sophia. She also founded Sophia’s Voice, a nonprofit that provides resources and equipment to people with disabilities and medical needs, supports caregivers, and encourages new activists.
Along with representatives from several local organizations, Natalie brought together a group of patient and consumer advocates to describe what they see as the most pressing issues in health care in North Carolina, and what they envision for the future.
Currently, the state is undergoing a period of change to transform its Medicaid services and payments across the health care landscape. One key element to this change is the transition of the state’s Medicaid program to a fully managed care format, which provides exciting opportunities for innovation and improvement, but is also a major shift for beneficiaries.
Everyone in the room is focused on addressing the needs and best interests of patients as this change is planned. These advocates are also working to ensure that the people who access health care through Medicaid have a voice in the transition, and are informed about what to expect.
We also had the opportunity to meet with Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and her team. Their commitment to developing innovative solutions to address social determinants of health (SDOH) stood out throughout the conversation. Our health is directly affected by where we live, how safe or stressful our environments are, and whether we have access to high-quality education, healthy foods, transportation and community resources. Addressing these factors play an important role in reducing costs, improving health, and decreasing health disparities.
Secretary Cohen and her team are currently building strategies to target SDOH. One plan is to incorporate standardized assessments into care delivery that better capture patients’ social needs and barriers to care. Once unmet social needs are identified, patients can be connected to appropriate community and social service resources. To support this initiative, the state has also partnered with several private organizations to begin development of a new resource platform that aligns data, resources, and relationships.
At their core, improved community partnerships and resource navigation tools rely on excellent, accessible data and health analytics. The state Department of Health and Human Services recently unveiled an interactive map to access a range of demographic and health-related information. This visual representation of SDOH identifies deficits within regions, and can help target and prioritize intervention and the use of resources. Additionally, the mapping tool has encouraged cross-collaboration among stakeholders to more effectively collect resources to unite communities and care.
This is a big moment for health care in North Carolina, and it’s presenting unique challenges and opportunities. Given the transitions ahead, we were glad to see such a committed and engaged advocacy community, and to meet with state leaders interested in addressing all the complex factors impacting the health and wellness of the state’s residents. We’re excited to see these initiatives develop, and to explore how other states can learn from and build upon the work underway in North Carolina.