Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) has announced the awarding of 24 health equity grants, given to non-profit organizations dedicated to improving access to and quality of care to underserved patients and communities. The pharmaceutical company reports the grants are intended to bolster outreach and education; increase patient support and care coordination; and support diversity, cultural competency, and collaboration among community health workers and patient navigators, across therapeutic areas.
To learn more about the grants and BMS’s overall commitment to increasing diversity and inclusivity, Outsourcing-Pharma connected with Adam Lenkowsky, senior vice president and general manager of US commercial with BMS; he also serves as executive sponsor of BMS’ Health Equity Initiative.
OSP: Could you please talk about some of the key achievements/events in BMS’ history of promoting greater equity in care and research?
AL: Multiple health equity efforts were underway at BMS before COVID-19. However, the pandemic exposed and further exacerbated health and healthcare inequities for underserved communities nationwide, and the deaths of members from these communities sparked a national reckoning on racism.
In 2020, BMS launched our D&I and Health Equity Commitments, a $150m, five-year investment to address health disparities, increase clinical trial diversity, expand supplier diversity, increase workforce representation and enhance employee giving in support of social justice organizations. Separately and independently, the BMS Foundation, which has a long history in health equity, also committed $150m toward health equity, clinical trial diversity, and employee giving.
To date, BMS’s total support in addressing health disparities as part of these Commitments is just over $39m. The latest health equity grants of nearly $8m specifically support community health workers and patient navigators who work directly with their communities across key therapeutic areas like oncology, hematology, immunology, and cardiology. Their deep knowledge of local health systems and the unique barriers experienced by patients in their communities puts them in a position to help dismantle those barriers, increase access to high-quality clinical care and patients’ health literacy, reduce inequities and eliminate breakages in the continuum of care.
OSP: Specifically, what are some of the programs that have benefited from the DE&I and Health Equity Commitments funding you’ve distributed so far?
AL: There are eight national programs that provide support to communities across the US. Additionally, 26 states are supported with both local and national programs. Some examples of programs supported by these recent grants include:
- Dia de la Mujer Latina will expand the role of Promotoras de Salud in lung cancer prevention, screening, and care in the largely Latino communities of Houston and El Paso in Texas as well as other U.S. cities like Orlando, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
- CommonSpirit’s Total Health community health workers will focus on the social determinants of health, connecting rural patients and community members to non-medical services such as housing and healthy nutrition in North Dakota.
- The Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum will collaborate with 20 community partners in 16 US states to train and implement community health worker and patient navigator programs for Asian patients facing cancer, cardiovascular and immunological diseases.
- The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation will implement a pilot “train the trainer” program to bolster their Patient Navigation Center to improve the quality of clinical care for African American patients.
- Crossroads4Hope will work with trusted community advocates to address the psychosocial needs of cancer patients in vulnerable communities in New Jersey.
OSP: Please tell us about this Health Equity Commitments grant program — what conversations led up to the announcement of this idea?
AL: We have been on a health equity journey for many years — continuously building on and expanding our tools to meaningfully tackle health inequities in the US and worldwide.
The events that unfolded in 2020 were a catalyst for us to deepen and accelerate our health equity and diversity and inclusion efforts. The global COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, put a magnifying glass on health and social disparities. That year we launched our $150m D&I and Health Equity Commitments.
We recognize our responsibility to bring a strategic, coordinated, and more accountable approach to our organization-wide health equity efforts by advancing business practices to better engage and serve patients we have yet to reach.
We also recognize the absolutely critical role community health workers and patient navigators play. For these new health equity grants, we’ve selected 24 US nonprofits that train and mobilize community health workers and patient navigators to increase access among medically underserved patients and communities in the US across therapeutic areas of oncology, cardiology, immunology, and hematology.
OSP: Can you share some insight into why the 24 grantees were chosen to receive funding?
AL: These grants are intended to bolster community outreach and engagement, increase care coordination services and ensure an ethnically diverse, culturally competent community health worker and patient navigator workforce. The organizations have strong ties to their communities.
OSP: Is there anything you’d like to add?
AL: BMS is united by a critical mission: transforming patients’ lives through science by discovering, developing, and delivering innovative medicines that help them prevail over serious diseases. We view health equity as a pathway to maximizing the reach and potential of our medicines, and we are looking critically at how we can more effectively engage with medically underserved and increasingly diverse patient populations and the healthcare providers who care for them.
Our health equity implementation efforts focus on evolving our business policies and processes, building new capabilities, and developing the tools for teams and employees to build health equity into their daily work in the service of patients. We recognize that we cannot do this alone, which is why we are partnering with patient advocacy groups and community-based service organizations to tailor and inform our approach.