Allying for Health Equity Blog

Four Days of Learning, Networking, and Advocacy for Health Equity

Thank you to everyone who joined the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved (ACU)’s 2023 Conference, “Transformation: Elevating Care, Clinicians, & Communities!” On July 23-26, ACU was honored to welcome hundreds of clinicians, administrators, public health leaders, and advocates at our Conference and its accompanying Hill Day.

From We Got Us Founder, medical student, and activist LaShyra Nolen’s inspiring keynote speech on racism in medicine to Sandy Hook Promise’s National Crisis Center Director Jessica Neely’s discussion of youth mental health, #ACUConf’s sessions spotlighted our community’s unwavering commitment to advancing health equity for all and supporting the workforce that makes those initiatives possible. So, too, did the crucial insights in practice, workforce development, and advocacy featured in our workshops, as well as attendees’ visits to legislators on Capitol Hill to advocate for renewed funding for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and CHCs.

#ACUConf also shone a light on the incredible achievements of our health center community in caring for over 30 million patients. As Jim Macrae, Associate Administrator of the Health Resources & Service Administration (HRSA)’s Bureau of Primary Health Care, noted, 97% of CHC patients would recommend their CHC to family and friends, and they also rated FQHC providers more highly in terms of listening than other providers, according to the 2022 Health Center Patient Survey.

“We need to tell the story of the magic that happens when health centers engage with patients,” said Macrae.

Exploring Innovative Strategies to Drive Health Equity, Transform Practice, and Support Our Workforce

In helping to tell that story, our Conference sessions explored what it takes to transform clinical practice, bolster community engagement and advocacy, implement development and training programs, and improve workforce recruitment and retention. In addition to Pre-Conference Workshops on speaking to patients about racism’s impact on health and leadership training for retention, sessions spotlighted such topics as creating medical-scribe-to-provider pathways at CHCs with Piedmont Health, supporting primary care CHW programs in a post-COVID world with the Northwest Regional Primary Care Association, advancing trauma-informed care at health centers with the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, and more.

Furthermore, Dr. Luis Padilla, Associate Administrator of HRSA’s Bureau of Health Workforce, updated attendees on initiatives and funding opportunities to support health center staff, “all of whom are doing amazing work” even in the face of uncertainty. Additionally, Jordan Grossman, Deputy Director of HRSA, detailed the administration’s ongoing work to support health centers in helping their patients overcome obstacles to care and in addressing social determinants to health.

The ongoing need to address youth mental health came into focus as well at a panel discussion featuring Jessica Neely of Sandy Hook Promise, Dr. Virna Little of Concert Health, and Dr. Christian Neal of Johnson Health Center. #ACUConf also played host to an announcement of a new partnership to advance health equity between ACU and the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership (NCMLP) as Bethany Hamilton, JD, Co-Director of NCMLP, joined attendees to discuss our initiative to raise awareness, develop a community of practice, and sharpen advocacy to advance health equity.

In addition to attendees from health centers, primary care associations, federal agencies, and other organizations across the United States, a host of sponsors and supporters also joined our Conference, including the Centene CorporationAetna, On Belay Health Solutions, SMART Conversations®, Pfizer, Amgen, and United Healthcare.

Celebrating Excellence in Our Field

2023 Award Winner Collage

ACU’s 2023 Conference was not just a spotlight on promising practices, CHC-driven innovations in care, and community partnerships, however—it was also a celebration of outstanding leaders, clinicians, advocates, and organizations in our field.

ACU’s 2023 Conference award winners included:

Watch Dr. Rosandra Daywalker accept her award and stay tuned for further videos and highlights from the award ceremonies on ACU’s social media.

Uplifting Our Voices for the National Health Service Corps

If #ACUConf highlighted the crucial need to support our CHC workforce, it also emphasized the role of advocacy in protecting the vital programs bolstering those efforts, including the NHSC. As our community knows all too well, the NHSC faces a funding cliff this year, with no guaranteed funding beyond September 30.

As Amanda Pears Kelly, ACU’s Executive Director, noted, “where Congress lands with funding will come down to your advocacy.” Our Conference attendees rose to the challenge with aplomb: more attendees than ever joined us for ACU’s Hill Day (July 26)! Over the course of the day, numerous attendees spoke with legislators and their staff—from TX and CA to NC and GA—on Capitol Hill to remind them of the crucial need to support the more than 20,000 NHSC providers actively providing care to 21 million of our nation’s medically underserved patients.

Though more remains to be done—and advocacy will continue during the August recess—these visits were a tribute to the powerful voices of ACU’s community.

Four Days to Remember

As we reflect on our 2023 Conference, ACU is inspired by our attendees’ innovation, leadership, advocacy, and fellowship. We hope each of our attendees felt similarly energized, and we’re already looking forward to next year’s ACU 2024 Conference on August 4-7 at the Renaissance Hotel DC (soon to be rebranded to a Westin) in Washington, D.C. Until then, ACU is excited to continue working to advance health equity with our incredible network.

“There’s so much work to be done, big challenges to tackle, and bigger opportunities to do more and do better,” said Amanda Pears Kelly. “Coming out of this conference, one thing I’m absolutely certain of is that health centers, our ACU community, and those working for medically underserved patients are not only up to the task, but making our nation, our communities, and our patients better each and every day.