There are endless, and occasionally insurmountable, hurdles that prevent people from receiving quality care. It may be the distance to the nearest hospital, or the lack of resources at said hospital, or that a “nearby” hospital simply doesn’t exist. This Speaker Spotlight will focus on the Speakers and Hive Innovators who are “bringing the mountain to Mohammed,” whether by building hospitals in communities that previously did not have them, or deconstructing the operating room and bringing it to a patient’s home. Each of these leaders has found ways to improve access to quality health care in communities that were often left behind.
Dikembe Mutombo has never lost connection with his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. After coming to America on an academic scholarship to study medicine at Georgetown University, Dikembe went on to an impressive eighteen-season career in the NBA. Throughout his career as a professional basketball player, and especially after retiring from the Houston Rockets in 2009, Dikembe has always been committed to using his celebrity status as a force for good. With a passion for improving the lives of the underserved—particularly those living in the Congo and throughout Africa—Dikembe has worked on projects and initiatives that help to ensure that those in need have access to health care and economic opportunities. In 1997, he established the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, which strives to improve the health, education, and quality of life for the people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One major Foundation project was the construction of the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital in Kinshasa, Dikembe’s hometown, which has served 300,000 people in the area since opening in 2007. Dikembe lives out the belief that every person, no matter where they live, deserves access to quality care and has built a beacon to share that vision.
As we know, equitable access is not merely an issue of having a hospital nearby. The quality of care within a hospital is critical, and one would hope, equal. However, Elizabeth Howell’s research shows us that outcomes are not equitable in all cases. As the Director of The Blavatnik Family Women’s Health Research Institute, and the Mount Sinai Health System Vice Chair for Research, as well as a Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Science, Elizabeth witnessed the disparity in outcomes that minority groups, especially Black women, faced in her field. In a study published in 2016, Elizabeth and her colleagues point out that “a significant portion of maternal morbidity and mortality is preventable making quality of care in hospitals a critical lever for improving outcomes.” With this fact in mind, they studied the differences in hospitals in which black and white women deliver. They found that black women are more likely to deliver at higher-risk hospitals, and called for further research to define the attributes that make hospitals high performing. It’s not enough to have a hospital nearby for a woman to deliver, so Elizabeth is leading research that will help ensure that hospitals provide all mothers high-quality care.
When it comes to improving health care for the underserved, Mitch Katz is all about achieving measurable results and lasting changes. As President and Chief Executive Officer of NYC Health + Hospitals, the nation’s largest public healthcare system, Mitch leads an integrated health care system of hospitals, neighborhood health centers, long-term care, nursing homes, and home care, which together function as the public safety net health care system of New York City. Although it’s a big job, Mitch has the right experience: his last few decades were spent directing the San Francisco Department of Health and then the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. While in those two California cities, Mitch achieved many public health victories including funding needle exchange, the creation of an ambulatory care network, and the elimination of the department deficit through increased revenues and decreased administrative expenses. Having taken over NYC Health + Hospitals in early 2018, Mitch has already set ambitious goals for the system, including achieving fiscal stability and transforming the primarily emergency department-focused system into a primary care-focused system. Many people look at US cities’ health care systems as broken and a nightmare, but Mitch looks at them, sees their potential, and finds a way to turn the oil tanker.
There are around 5 billion people in the world who don’t have access to safe, clean surgical care. Debbie Teodorescu and the team at SurgiBox are looking to change that. Instead of requiring a sterile operating room for surgery—which is difficult in many developing countries where dust, bacteria, and flies are present when doctors are working in the field or can also contaminate operating rooms—SurgiBox is redesigning what safe surgery looks like. With their simple, inexpensive, and ultraportable inflatable surgical environment that fits in a backpack, Debbie and the team are making clean surgeries available anywhere. Instead of requiring a full room for surgery, SurgiBox is simply inflated into a clear bubble around the patient’s surgical site, sealed for sterility, and operated through via ports. Imagine the possibilities for quality health care access with a portable OR!
When faced with glacial sized challenges, it is clear that many members of the medical community roll up their sleeves and get to work, chipping away at the behemoth. While there are few like Mitch, who found a way to reshape massive health care systems to meet the needs of the patients while making the system more sustainable, we know there are many who are fighting the everyday Goliath’s in health care. While Mitch has shown how to make large-scale, systemic changes, there are pioneers like Debbie who are bringing safe surgery to places where it does not exist. Even when there is infrastructure in place, we are grateful for researchers like Elizabeth, who make sure that we know where to hold our systems accountable with the very real statistics facing underserved communities. Regardless of how they reinvent access to health care, each of these champions is forging a way to bring quality care to communities and patients that others overlooked or ignored.