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Reflections From Aspen Ideas: Health 2023 Conference

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I may be on the ground in New Brunswick, but my heart is still a mile high. At the Aspen Ideas: Health conference last month, I met, learned from and shared ideas with incredible health industry leaders, practitioners, policymakers and advocates, all with a shared commitment: creating a world in which everyone—regardless of the color of their skin—has access to quality healthcare.

As we work towards driving change in ambitious and exciting ways in the second half of the year, I’m bringing with me three takeaways from the conference:

1. To help solve a community’s health challenges, lean into the unique perspectives of its members—especially its health workers.

During Johnson & Johnson’s Stories from the Heart of Health event, health workers and advocates took the stage to share personal stories on what drives them in their work.

We heard from a pastor transforming the world one person at a time by delivering mental health support; a community health worker continuing the work of her mother, a Hmong refugee, in helping immigrant families navigate a complex health system; a physician (the only Black male resident emergency physician in Oklahoma) seeking to recruit Black doctors in the same way Black athletes are recruited; a nurse using technology to address the shortage of health workers; and a second-career community health worker who transformed his own traumatic experience into a renewed purpose to deliver health services to his underserved community in New York.

While these storytellers have diverse lived experiences and unique paths that brought them to their work, their stories shared an important common thread—they focused on building a better and healthier future for their own communities. As the son of a community health nurse, I recognize the power in this work. By enabling localized solutions, populations everywhere can begin to thrive. To paraphrase one of the evening’s storytellers, Veron Blue: by transforming communities, we can transform the world. And there is no group better placed to transform the health of a community better than a health worker from that community.

2. Health inequities are ubiquitous; change must be just as widespread.

A private roundtable hosted by the Johnson & Johnson Our Race to Health Equity team brought together representatives from other companies, nonprofit organizations, health workers and academic leaders to discuss the role of public-private partnerships in creating solutions to health equity at the local level.

As we learned from the valuable experiences of others throughout the lively discussion, what resonated the most for me was as simple as it is profound: eliminating health equity gaps begins with a coordinated and collective effort within organizations along with external collaboration across sectors.

At Johnson & Johnson, in lockstep with our external efforts, which include expanding access to vital health resources to communities of color, enabling culturally competent care, developing a diverse health worker pipeline, ensuring diversity in clinical trials, and investing in entrepreneurs innovating to improve health equity, we are also working to ensure health equity is ingrained in the fabric of our culture. Because we firmly believe that each of us – no matter where we sit in the business – has a responsibility and the ability to drive change. We are committed to cultivating one of the most diverse and inclusive workforces that inspires innovative healthcare solutions around the world.

3. The power of partnerships is immense.

And finally, what was so clear in Aspen is the incredible power when we come together to create a healthier future for all. The issues we face are daunting. But the passion and commitment from hundreds of dedicated partners shows me that, together, we can overcome them.

It is imperative that companies like Johnson & Johnson recognize when it is time to follow, when it is time to uplift and amplify, and when it is time to lead.

There is a long road ahead of us to achieve the goal of Our Race to Health Equity, but I firmly believe that working together we will drive change. When we communicate openly, share expertise, expand our understanding of community health needs, and commit to learning and evaluation, we can forge partnerships that result in real, long-lasting impact.

If you watch the first few minutes of our storytelling event from Aspen, you’ll know that Johnson & Johnson’s commitment to health equity resonates with me on a deep, personal level. This work is part of my purpose, it’s why I took on this role three months ago, though it’s hard to believe it’s only been that long. I feel exceptionally fortunate to be able to uplift the work we’ve done over the last few years, building on that momentum to create a more equitable future a reality.

I hope you’ll join us along the way.