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'Our Voice Matters:' CommonSpirit System VP of Population Health Innovation and Policy

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   January 06, 2022

Alisahah Jackson, MD, shares the population health initiatives she's led at CommonSpirit during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, her leadership background and style, and offers advice to future leaders.

Editor's note: This conversation is a transcript from an episode of the HealthLeaders Women in Healthcare Leadership Podcast. Audio of the full interview can be found here.

Alisahah Jackson, MD, has wanted to work in medicine since she was a child. She's a family medicine physician by training, a specialty she chose due to the work being across the care continuum. She wanted to be able to take care of families during all stages of life.

She also noted that it was the only specialty at the time that provided training in behavioral health and community medicine, as well as population health, a specialty she is passionate about.

Currently, Jackson serves as the system vice president of population health innovation and policy for CommonSpirit Health, a new position for the organization, which she assumed in June 2020. Her role is to help the Chicago-based health system develop strategies to care for their vulnerable populations as well as develop health equity and innovative care delivery models.

In the latest Women in Healthcare Leadership Podcast episode, Jackson shares the population health initiatives she's led at CommonSpirit during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, why it's important for healthcare organizations to focus on population health, as well as offers a look into her leadership background and style, and advice for future leaders.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

HealthLeaders: What has been your experience joining CommonSpirit during the pandemic and leading population health efforts during the past 18 months?

Alisahah Jackson: One of the things that drew me to CommonSpirit was the mission. Embedded within our mission is taking care of the vulnerable and focusing on social justice. To join an organization with that level of commitment during a time where both of those things were significant issues across our country was transformational.

Leading during that time has been interesting. One of the things that we have to acknowledge is that our work has changed. We had to shift virtually because of the pandemic, and I think for all intents and purposes, some of that is going to remain. There are a lot of things that we realize that we can do virtually, and leverage technology and digital solutions to help provide our patients with holistic care, and at the same time, make sure we're not unintentionally creating disparity or widening some of the inequities that exist.

I have been excited to help our organization focus on virtual patient navigation. We're leveraging a text message solution, with live in-person support as needed, to help our birthing people through their maternity journey and connecting them to social resources as needed. This virtual tool has had stepped into to fill a gap and help navigate patients to resources.

We also convened a Vulnerable Populations Council that is made up of clinical and operational leaders from across the organization, who are committed to taking care of the vulnerable every day. We bring them all together on a monthly basis, identify best practices, identify needs, and identify barriers that they may be experiencing, and step in and help when we can.

A great example of that is as the vaccines started to become available, we acknowledged that there was vaccine hesitancy in some of our vulnerable populations and in our communities of color and recognized why that might be. Through the Vulnerable Populations Council that existed, we were able to quickly address that, create different resources, even for our providers, to have those conversations with certain populations, and stratify who we needed to be reaching out to directly to encourage people to get the vaccine, especially if they were considered high risk for hospitalization or death.

HealthLeaders: Why is it important for hospitals and health systems to focus on population health initiatives?

Jackson: It's exciting to see that most healthcare systems and healthcare companies, health tech companies, and health retail competitors, are starting to focus on population health. I think if we're honest about what we have today, the reality is we have a healthcare delivery system that is built around illness and disease. We have a unique opportunity to redesign the system to focus on health and wellness, and as a part of that, making sure that that's grounded in equity and justice.

Right now, we are still a predominantly fee-for-service type of industry. What population health management is doing is shifting to value-based care, and contracting that supports the concept around how well is the population that you're taking care of?

We're definitely on the path and I think the pandemic has accelerated that in certain aspects around virtual care and telehealth that has broadened the way in which we can deliver care. I don't think that cat is going back in the bag. So, how do we continue to support that, and again, make sure that our communities, especially our rural communities and other communities that may not have even things like digital access or broadband access, how do we make sure we're working with partners to provide the patients and the communities what they need?

HealthLeaders: How would you describe your leadership style and how has your work in healthcare administration and your background as a family medicine physician helped define that?

Jackson: I would say my leadership style is more of a facilitative and supportive style. I am about engaging in conversation, and welcoming all kinds of different thoughts and opinions, including ones that I may not share. From a diversity of thought standpoint, that's where we can get to some of the most amazing innovation that we have seen.

From a family medicine standpoint, we take care of so many different people. Because we experience so many different areas within our training, and ultimately in our practice, we tend to be natural consensus builders and collaborators. Family medicine has helped me be flexible and be adaptable.

HealthLeaders: What advice do you have for women who want to serve in leadership roles in the healthcare sector?

Jackson: You are needed. We are needed, as women, in leadership, specifically in healthcare.

I often say and I've heard others say that women are the chief medical officers of their home. If you look at the data, we know that women make between 70% and 80% of the healthcare decisions within households. Depending on which data set you look at, we also make up close to 80% of the healthcare workforce. Yet, we make up less than 20% of administrative leadership positions within the healthcare sector. We are needed in this space; our voice matters. Especially if we're the ones making the decisions anyway for the most part for our families, and even for our communities, we have to own that our voice does matter.

We have such a tremendous opportunity to make a difference, and never doubt that. That's something that I struggled with, and still struggle with at times:  Am I making a difference? Do I have an opportunity to make a difference here? The reality is we do, even in our day to day lives. So never underestimate the amount of impact that you can have.

“[Women] are needed in this space; our voice matters.”

Melanie Blackman is a contributing editor for strategy, marketing, and human resources at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

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