Tamarah Duperval-Brownlee is Ascension's first chief community impact officer, which means she is in charge of helping guide the hospital operator's new strategic vision to reimagine the best way to care for those in communities across the country. Duperval-Brownlee, a family physician, is responsible for helping Ascension pivot away from its focus on hospital campuses to better care for patients outside hospital settings.
The company's new position comes as nonprofit healthcare organizations are under increasing scrutiny. Earlier this year, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote to the IRS requesting an investigation into whether nonprofit hospitals are living up to their charitable obligations and asking for more information on the agency's oversight of the facilities.
Healthcare Dive asked Duperval-Brownlee a few questions about her new role.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
HEALTHCARE DIVE: You're in a very pivotal role in a very pivotal time in healthcare, especially for health systems as they transition away from traditional hospital campuses. How do you begin that transition?
TAMARAH DUPERVAL-BROWNLEE: My role isn't necessarily to be the one to make the decision. Our markets are evaluating and doing their own discernment to understand what the right size needs of the population are, then I come in and provide the perspective to that. It's about being able to leverage what we know from community health needs assessment, population trends, working with our strategy team and the like.
I've likened it to changing the solar system. The center of that has been the hospital and the ambulatory spaces and what we can do for people and to people. But what we're entering now, and I think it's articulated by our strategic direction, is that the center is the person that we're serving and ensuring that we are the preferred health partner for them so when they need to come into a site of care, we're there.
But, when they don't come in to a site of care, we're also there and aware to provide relationships with partners that can address social factors that may be impeding their health or how we might be able to help them with their goals for health. I think that's where the magic starts.
Are you starting the transformation in D.C.?
DUPERVAL-BROWNLEE: We have two transformations in place in Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The footprints of both those places are a little bit different. But I'm most close to the D.C. transformation at this point.
What will success look like? What are some initial goals?
DUPERVAL-BROWNLEE: We have, I think, very strong and concrete goals that we would like to accomplish with our Providence system. One is the continued strength in engagement and trust of the persons that we serve that we are there and we are committed and that we will continue to be their health partner.
Our vision is to create a healthy village on the Providence Health campus that will serve the continuum of care across a person's life cycle but, our focus population, informed by what we know from community health needs assessment and who was served by the hospital previously, is elders. We want to focus on the elder population and create a village around them so that they will be able to thrive as they age.
On that campus right now we have a very reputable skilled nursing facility that provides valuable service to largely elders in that community and elders who are vulnerable. Our hope is to be able to build around that.
There are phases to this being accomplished on our campus. Phase one is to ensure that our primary care services are strengthened. We will be standing up an urgent care center in three weeks on that campus.
A big piece will be partnerships. What we're realizing overall in our transformation is that health care has the unique position of not only being the expert in care delivery — that's our superpower, so to speak — but because we are often the anchor in communities as the top employer, we have power as a convener. And our ability to bring in partners that are like-minded and have a similar vision toward creating paths of wellness and health for a community will be welcome. We are discerning who those partners will be right now.
It may not be in our wheelhouse but it may address what's really important to people and what matters most. Can I have access to healthy walking spaces, healthy food, safe transportation or access transportation period to be able to get to care? If we can convene partners to be able to provide that complement on our campus then that would be success for us. To see a thriving community where people can count more healthy days at home. They're reaching their goals, there is economic improvement, there is homeownership because people were able to get their needs met.
It's interesting to hear you say that because it's so different from all the buzzwords that you typically hear in healthcare such as service lines and readmissions. Why should hospitals be responsible for what happens outside their facilities and where do you draw the line?
DUPERVAL-BROWNLEE: If you were to have an honest and open conversation with CEOs of hospitals they would say, 'Oh, we know why,' because what happens in the communities helps fuel our ability to thrive and sustain. If a community is productive and they see us as a trusted partner to meet their needs, then we'll be the preferred hospital. It seems counter-intuitive to think that the healthier you make your community, that you would provide sustainability and profitability for your hospital or system, but it's true.
I think more than ever that people are really becoming more intelligent and smart and standing up for what they need. And, frankly, I don't know that people want to go to a hospital unless they really need it. They want to be able to get care that makes sense when they want it and get cured. The emphasis is less about patients going somewhere as opposed to being able to meet their needs in an ambulatory footprint. It behooves, I think, every hospital to really take a look at who are we serving, what are their needs and how can we partner better because there is power in the engagement.
You have a history of serving in federally qualified health centers in Texas and Chicago. How did that experience prepare you for this role?
DUPERVAL-BROWNLEE: I do think those experiences were valuable because that's what we're doing now, in realizing that everyone has a moment in time when they're vulnerable. I think it's pronounced when you're poor and it certainly could impact you whether or not you’re poor or rich and the barriers exist. I think I'm sobered when I come into this role and this work.