Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence Points to “Glaring Health Disparities in Detroit” in Discussion with Top Healthcare Leaders

Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, representing Michigan’s 14th congressional district, led a panel of healthcare leaders in a discussion on constricted access to social services. The virtual roundtable was co-hosted by CareAdvisors, a healthcare technology firm based in Chicago, and the National Association of Health Services Executives Public Policy Committee (Detroit Chapter).

Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence Points to “Glaring Health Disparities in Detroit”           in Discussion with Top Healthcare Leaders
Chicago, IL, May 01, 2021 --( More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare leaders in Detroit gathered on April 22 with Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, representing Michigan’s 14th congressional district, on a virtual roundtable to discuss the impact on the communities they serve, specifically as it pertains to constricted access to social services.

“Black Americans were more likely to get infected, more likely to be hospitalized, and more likely to die from the coronavirus,” Representative Lawrence stated. “And even with the vaccine, we are now facing another hurdle: we're less likely to receive the shot in our arms. We have lower vaccination rates than any other group. It's why we need a targeted approach to close these health gaps.”

Responding to Representative Lawrence’s call to action and participating in the virtual session were Denise Brooks-Williams, FACHE, senior vice president and CEO of North Market at Henry Ford Health System; Anthony V. King, FACHE, MHSA, CEO of The Wellness Plan Medical Centers; Audrey E. Smith, MPH, president, National Association of Health Services Executives, (Detroit Chapter) and COO, Family Medical Center of Michigan; and Dr. Alexis Travis, senior deputy director, Aging and Adult Services at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Co-hosted by CareAdvisors, a healthcare technology firm based in Chicago, and the National Association of Health Services Executives Public Policy Committee (Detroit Chapter), the Urgent Means Project Virtual Roundtable was moderated by Karen Bouffard, healthcare reporter with The Detroit News.

“What we saw is that issues that were in the community were exacerbated,” Henry Ford Health System’s Brooks-Williams added. “If you had vulnerabilities, health disparities and gaps in care, they were exploited...Our team immediately mobilized to create security through partnerships, making sure, for example, that food insecurity was being addressed for families that we knew prior to the pandemic were already vulnerable. And a lot of innovation was put in place to provide for families and patients that needed to get routine care, and enhanced our telehealth and virtual environment.”

The Wellness Plan Medical Centers traditionally focused on social determinants of health, but since the onset of the pandemic also increased and added to its telemedicine services. “Prior to COVID, most of our telemedicine services were psychiatric,” King said, “but we quickly pivoted and began to provide primary care services through telemedicine. That was a big change that allowed us to continue to provide access. We continue to do so and recognize that telemedicine is going to be here to stay for those people with transportation challenges.”

Despite the benefits of telemedicine and the innovative strides that healthcare providers have made during the pandemic to close gaps in care in virtual settings, Smith spoke to the barriers that vulnerable populations have with telemedicine. “Social services organizations have lots of paperwork that people have to complete and we can’t ask people who do not have access to computers or laptops to complete that online,” she explained. “They have to enter information on their phones and many of our seniors who rely on social services are struggling with access. I also think about persons with disabilities...if you can't necessarily communicate when you have further questions, what do you do?”

Dr. Travis echoed the concern about specific issues with aging and adult services in Michigan. “I think everybody knows that older adults have been at greater risk for complications due to COVID-19,” she said. "Our aging network has been able to work really hard and step up our services...although coming into this pandemic we had a shortage of direct care workers...we spent the last year developing ethical standards and a core curriculum that direct care workers need to provide high quality care to older and vulnerable adults who are seeking caregiver services."

“When we ask older adults where they’d like to spend their latter years in life,” Dr. Travis continued, “more than 90 percent of the time they indicate that they'd like to spend their last years at home. Our intention is to honor their intention to age in place.”

Representative Lawrence closed the session by offering her perspective on what is happening on the federal level to incorporate social determinants of health in efforts to expand access to comprehensive healthcare.

“I want to commend the Biden administration for recognizing the importance of addressing social determinants of health,” she summarized. “His administration is requesting $153 million as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Social Determinants of Health Program to support the research for improved health equality and data collection of racial and ethnic populations. Why is this important? If we don’t start addressing these underlying conditions: hypertension, obesity, food deserts that lead to obesity, and talk about diabetes and hypertension, so that we can do the analytical, medical research to attack and reduce these underlying social determinants, the next time -- and there will be another virus -- we will be in the same place.”

About CareAdvisors
CareAdvisors provides value-based social care automation to some of the largest U.S. health systems and health plans. The CareAdvisors team previously built one of the largest navigation programs in the nation, helping more than one million Illinois residents enroll in social services and gain access to resources. More information can be found at
Maureen Daugherty