Allying for Health Equity Blog

Three Days of Learning, Networking, and Fellowship in Health Equity

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved’s 2022 Conference, “Resilience & Transformation in Care.” From July 31-August 2, ACU was honored to welcome hundreds of clinicians, administrators, advocates, and public health leaders at our Conference and its accompanying National Health Service Corps 50th Anniversary Gala. From HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson’s address at our Gala and Dr. Kameron Leigh Matthews’ opening keynote at our Conference to the copious insights in practice, workforce, and emerging issues featured in our sessions, #ACUConf was a showcase of the resolve, innovation, and fellowship of our community.

Dr. Kameron Leigh Matthews, MD, JD, FAAFP, Co-Founder and Director of Tour for Diversity in Medicine, opened the Conference with an acknowledgment not only of the complex challenges of improving health equity, but also of the efforts of our community in finding solutions.

“All of us in this room are truly dedicated to finding solutions and putting equity at the center of our work,” said Dr. Matthews.

So, too, did Jim Macrae, MA, MPP, Associate Director of the Bureau of Primary Health Care spotlight the achievements of our workforce, noting that health centers during the COVID-19 pandemic had administered 21 million vaccine doses, disseminated 26 million at-home tests, provided 15 million N95s to healthcare workers, and given 85,000 courses of oral antivirals. And despite the uncertainty of the pandemic, Macrae noted, health centers still reached a vital milestone in care in 2021, providing care to more than 30 million patients that year–including one in three people in the U.S. living in poverty.

“The pandemic put a spotlight on the value of investing in our health center workforce, and we can’t lose that momentum,” Macrae said.

Exploring Innovation in Supporting Clinicians and Patients Alike

To advance that cause, our 2022 Conference sessions examined what it takes to support a thriving workforce, reimagine health care delivery, and tackle emerging issues in care for under-resourced populations–all with the lens of increasing justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) in care. That work began with our JEDI Pre-Conference Workshop, which highlighted CHC’s roots in the Civil Rights Movement, and continued in myriad sessions exploring topics ranging from new approaches to staff resiliency, measuring workforce well-being, and building partnerships for health equity to addressing the children’s mental health crisis, returning to cancer screening for under-resourced populations in a pandemic, and addressing financial health as a social determinant.

Furthermore, Dr. Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, gave an update on SAMHSA’s initiatives and unveiling of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, in which “hope has a number.” Leaders from the Centene Corporation, Health Center Association of Nebraska, and Nebraska Total Care also joined attendees to discuss the vision and partnership models needed to achieve transformation in care. Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA) also joined attendees with a video message of solidarity with health centers and the National Health Service Corps as he accepted ACU’s Congressional Champion Award. All of those diverse presentations were united by their emphasis on supporting our clinicians.

“We’re focused on COVID. We’re focused on health equity. But threading through all of that is clinician resilience,” said Dr. Luis Padilla, Associate Director of HRSA’s Bureau of Health Workforce, as he detailed the agency’s approach to supporting the health center workforce.

Honoring a Half Century of Service at the NHSC’s 50th Anniversary Gala

A crucial element sustaining that workforce is the National Health Service Corps, and ACU united numerous Corps members, alumni, and supporters in celebrating its half-century of connecting clinicians with under-resourced communities in our Conference’s NHSC 50th Anniversary Gala. ACU Executive Director Amanda Pears Kelly opened the black-tie optional event with a tribute and a moment of contemplation.

“Imagine the number of lives that have been touched by the NHSC. It has changed the trajectory of people’s lives for 50 years, and we can only imagine what the future will bring,” Pears Kelly said.

Eric Redman, an author, businessman, and former Congressional staffer who played a pivotal role in drafting the legislation that would lead to the Corps’ founding, detailed the genesis of the Corps. Additionally, HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson gave a keynote address celebrating the NHSC’s 50-year legacy of care. “It’s an honor to recognize what the NHSC has done from day one by putting critical patient needs up front in under-resourced communities,” said Johnson. The night continued with the unveiling of a video commemorating the Corps’ history, as well as award ceremonies celebrating NHSC members, alumni, and supporters, including Dr. Jim Hotz, MD, MACP, winner of the Gala’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

“You can’t take care of people in under-resourced communities unless you can recruit the people who make up our health center workforce, and the NHSC is the best initiative for that that we’ve ever had,” said Dr. Jim Hotz.

Celebrating Excellence in Our Field

Just as we celebrated promising practices and health center innovations in care, however, ACU also honored outstanding leaders, clinicians, advocates, and organizations in our field.

ACU’s 2022 Conference award winners included:

  • Dr. Adrian Billings, MD, PhD, FAAFP: Clinician of the Year Award
  • Kyle McDaniel: Health Professional in Training Award
  • Beth Wrobel: Marc Wetherhorn Advocate of the Year Award
  • Senator Jon Ossoff: Congressional Champion Award
  • Caridad Center: Organizational Excellence Award
  • People’s Health Clinic: Organizational Excellence Award
  • Dr. Ellis Frazier, MD: 25th Anniversary Award

ACU’s NHSC 50th Anniversary Gala honored the following awardees:

  • Dr. James A. Hotz, MD, MACP: Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Eric Redman: NHSC Champion Award
  • Dr. Theodore Ross, MD: NHSC Outstanding Scholar Award
  • Dr. Sodabeh Etminan, DMD, MPH: NHSC Outstanding Member Award

Watch Beth Wrobel, Dr. Jim Hotz, and Dr. Theodore Ross accept their awards below, and stay tuned for further videos and highlights from the award ceremonies on ACU’s social media.

A Conference to Remember

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 CorporationPfizerUHC SolutionsUnited HealthcareWipfliEdwards Lifesciences, and Aetna Better Health. Whether joining us in-person in Washington, D.C., or online, our community truly exemplified the spirit of resilience and transformation at #ACUConf. And it may have been the words of Dr. Teeb Al-Samarrai, Director of Science and Policy at the Office of the Surgeon General, that most exemplified the spirit of the event as she discussed the Surgeon General’s recent advisory on addressing health worker burnout.

“We see you. We hear you. And we want to be of service to all of you. And thank you to each one of you for everything you do each day. We as a nation can’t thank you enough.” So, too, does ACU.