By: Sophia Vega
Lisa Lawson MSW'15 was initially drawn to the field of social work as a member of the Latinx community and as a daughter of an undocumented migrant worker. While earning her degree, she concentrated on Diversity & Inclusion in the Clinical track and furthered her commitment to advocating for equity in healthcare access. She currently serves as Director of Clinical & Integrated Health at Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton.
Lawson's team was recently awarded federal expansion grant funding to support communities in Mercer and Burlington county, so we spoke with her on the significance of this work and for her take on this subject.
Q: What is the importance of expanding into integrated healthcare practices ?
A: Current events highlight the prevalence of health disparities in the United States, moving beyond traditional healthcare towards an integrated model is not only a necessity to the industry, but a moral imperative.
Integrated healthcare is person-centered, focusing not just on primary care, but the needs of an individual through their health journey. The expansion of integrated healthcare practice is vital to all communities, but particularly, to historically underserved populations, including veterans, undocumented immigrants, and the uninsured.
Q: Through your work, have you witnessed barriers to getting comprehensive integrated healthcare services in certain communities, and if so, what are some of the ways that these services can become accessible?
A: There are a number of barriers to getting comprehensive integrated healthcare services to communities, particularly in rural and also, socioeconomically impacted urban areas. For individuals in rural districts, lack of transportation and long distances prove to be a significant barrier to care. Additional barriers may include lack of multilingual providers, out-of-network care, and lack of access to specialists.
Three ways to increase accessibility to care include; expansion of Medicaid services, use of Telehealth, and finally, an industry move towards value-based care. Medicaid provides access to healthcare coverage for many of the individuals who meet criteria for healthcare disparities. Expanding Medicaid coverage supports increased access to healthcare, particularly for those in the low-to-mid income bracket.
As for Telehealth, which provides remote-access to care regardless of distance, has been embraced in recent months following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth supports access to healthcare services that individuals may not otherwise be able to afford or engage in a traditional setting.
The expansion of Medicaid services and adoption of Telehealth can be greatly supported by value-based care. Value-based care emphasizes quality over quantity in patient care, while placing greater accountability on healthcare providers for positive outcomes. The Value-based model supports integrated healthcare by placing importance on performance measures, evidence-based practice, and the coordination of care in multi-disciplinary teams for seamless services to patients.
Q: What role, if any, does community outreach play in terms of making the populations that you assist aware of the services available to them?
A: Utilizing diverse and robust outreach strategies is significant in reaching a wider audience of healthcare patients. Traditional face-to-face community outreach, for instance, is especially important to communities that may have reduced or inadequate access to traditional methods of patient marketing. Traditional and social media outreach are helpful for patient experience improvement and in support of target populations that are overlooked or marginalized by pervasive systemic discrimination in healthcare.
Q: During the current public health crisis, has the field of integrated healthcare been disrupted and what are some of the changes that you as a professional have seen or experienced?
A: The pandemic has highlighted the inequities which exist in our healthcare system, namely, the systemic discrimination of individuals in lower socio-economic status and people of color. Like many industries since the onset of the pandemic, healthcare must embrace technology and innovation in order to survive.
Some of the changes I have seen in the last four months include a rapid increase in testing as well as a growth in the use of Telehealth to provide services to patients. Telehealth and telephonic interventions have been, and I expect, will continue to be, necessary tools for connecting with patients in the healthcare realm. Regardless of age or ability, we have seen that patients not only embrace the use of Telehealth, but many prefer this mode of service delivery as it removes many of the barriers that come with traditional on-site services.