The Bold Step Forward: MHM’s journey to advance health equity at Aspen Ideas: Health

Embarking on a new journey is a conscious decision to embrace change, new possibilities, and transformation. However, journeys are seldom easy, and the path ahead is often brimming with unexpected barriers. Novel pursuits require years of lessons and growth but also commitment, courage, and conviction. Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas Inc. is embracing its current journey with a sharpened focus, greater intention, and broader mindset. To fully live out its mission in “Serving Humanity to Honor God,” Methodist Healthcare Ministries is forging a path to advance health equity and improve the wellness of the least served. Methodist Healthcare Ministries defines health equity as a framework of thought and action that strives to reduce racial and socio-economic disparities so that everyone can reach their full potential for health and life. In June, Methodist Healthcare Ministries shared its journey on a global stage.

Broadening ideas and minds

A delegation from Methodist Healthcare Ministries, St. David’s Foundation, and the Knapp Community Care Foundation travelled to Colorado for Aspen Ideas: Health. For over a decade, the event has been an international draw for various sectors of government, public health, and philanthropy. Over a thousand attendees engage in one-on-one interviews, panel discussions, live podcasts, and a plethora of other opportunities. The majestic mountains and green pastures set the scene for the one-of-a-kind experience which brings visionary minds and bold leaders together in one place.  Notable speakers this year included Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General, and Mandy Cohen, Director for U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 2024 program was comprised of over 60 sessions and over 150 speakers that shared innovative ideas, and solutions to challenges in modern day health, medicine, and science.  Among those speakers was President and CEO of Methodist Healthcare Ministries, Jaime Wesolowski, who has led the organization’s journey to advance health equity. “As we continue to live out our mission in ‘Serving Humanity to Honor God’ it is important we recognize opportunities to highlight our work. Aspen Ideas: Health is the perfect stage to share our story and engage with others who have been or are just beginning their health equity journey.”

The first day served as a networking opportunity for members of the South Texas delegation. Sandra Martinez, Vice-President of Strategy & Partnerships for Methodist Healthcare Ministries shared what keeps her inspired. “What brings me joy is seeing the progress we’re making on our organizational journey of learning and partnership as we advance health equity. We’re transforming from within and seeing our processes, polices, and partnership change to be more community-centered and led.”  Wesolowski met with Wendy Ellis, Director at the Institute for Racial, Ethnic and Socioeconomic Equity at George Washington University. The conversation revolved around systems thinking and systems change and the shared work in advancing social justice and health equity. 

Illuminating legacies and lessons

Reimagining Equitable Systems for Thriving People and Places was a session on the second day. Conversation focused upon strategies that challenge traditional healthcare views and ways to build lasting community-led solutions. Wesolowski was joined by Kate Bollbach, Executive Director of Partners in Health United States, and Dave Chokshi, Chair of Common Health Coalition. Somava Saha, President and CEO of Well-Being and Equity in the World, led the conversation. Wesolowski opened with a retrospect of Methodist Healthcare Ministries first 25 years of creating access to care for the uninsured. Although there had been great strides, there were deep rooted challenges that needed to be addressed. “Health outcomes were not getting better they were getting worse, and they were getting worse for the populations we serve at a greater pace. Even though the work we are doing is important, we realize we have to do something else.” This new mindset led the organization to pivot and focus upon factors that impact the Social Determinants of Health (SDoH); outlined in Methodist Healthcare Ministries 20/20 Vision: Advancing Health Equity: The Strategic Plan & Framework. Wesolowski pointed to the three strategic focus areas that have served as Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ roadmap; transform internal processes and culture; strengthen communities; and impact systemic change. In transforming internal processes, Methodist Healthcare Ministries made investments at all levels of the organization, including the creation of the Organizational Excellence department; dedicated to implementing organizational systems and developing practices that align with Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ commitment to health equity. In an effort to strengthen communities, Methodist Healthcare Ministries is supporting the region it serves through community-led coalitions that are engaged to address concerns and empowered to create their solutions. Intentional investment into crosscutting areas, such as economic mobility, digital equity, and food security continues to grow and helps the organization to impact systemic change. By focusing attention into these areas, Methodist Healthcare Ministries began to broaden its definition of health care. Wesolowski said the strategic focus areas have guided the organization’s efforts in its journey to advance health equity. “We will continue to provide direct care, and we will do it very well, and at the same time we will prioritize community by community; what biggest gaps they have and address them with the same effectiveness.” Ballbach and Chokshi shared their respective expertise with the audience as best practices were exchanged, and ideas illuminated

Courtesy: C2 Photography

Is it Really Radical? The Right Risks for Systemic Change was a roundtable discussion hosted by Methodist Healthcare Ministries, which was held on day three. Over 20 national and global leaders spoke of innovative risks that are necessary in their work to advance health equity. The objective was to enlighten guests on how industry leaders can support a resilient framework of thought and action. Wesolowski spoke of the importance of investment in communities. “Follow the money in health to find opportunities to change structural well-being challenges. When you follow the money, most people will think of hospital or doctor profit margins. But those are typically below 5%. If you follow further, you will find far higher margins for pharmaceutical companies. Wouldn’t it be radical to reimagine how to redistribute some of that wealth to invest in community-led solutions based on the Social Determinants of Health?” Rishi Manchanda, MD, MPH is the founder of and President of HealthBeings. The organization supports the improvement of the social drivers of health and equity at all levels. Manchanda spoke of his experience, “Part of continuous learning; is unlearning. As our organizations seek to grow, we must take the radical risk of intentionally identifying what we need to unlearn when it comes to the narrative, economic and societal structures that unconsciously shape our work.”  

Moving the mission forward 

Courtesy: C2 Photography

Embarking on uncharted territory requires risk, and the thought of the unknown can lead to trepidation before a journey even begins; yet journeys are an inevitable part of learning and growth. Methodist Healthcare Ministries recognizes that its journey is still unfolding, and the path to living out its mission is perpetual. Although systemic inequities have not been eradicated in communities, Methodist Healthcare Ministries remains steadfast in its commitment. Conversations and collaborations lead to new thoughts and action, which is why gatherings like Aspen Ideas: Health are crucial in moving the organization forward. By deconstructing archaic mindsets, refining its strengths, and adopting new strategies bold steps are being taken to advance health equity. Through its commitment, courage, and conviction Methodist Healthcare Ministries is embracing the next part of its journey.