A Q&A with Destiny-Simone Ramjohn, CareFirst’s VP of Community Health and Social Impact


Dr. Destiny-Simone Ramjohn

This week, David Nevins, President and CEO of Nevins & Associates, spoke with Dr. Destiny-Simone RamjohnCareFirst’s new Vice President of Community Health and Social Impact. They discussed the ongoing pandemic, bridging inequalities in healthcare and more. Below is a condensed version of their conversation:

David Nevins: Welcome to Baltimore, you moved here from elsewhere

Dr. Destiny-Simone Ramjohn: Correct! I’m actually a native New Yorker from Brooklyn, but I’ve called Maryland home for almost 10 years now and I’ve been living in Baltimore for three years. I previously worked for Kaiser Permanente where I helped to bridge the disparities in healthcare beforehand. I recently joined CareFirst in January.

DN: You came into this new community health and social impact position right on the heels as the pandemic emerged and racial justice issues unfolded. Can you share details about the priorities CareFirst identified during the pandemic and what has been accomplished over the past several months

DSR: I am a public health sociologist by trade. The inequities in healthcare are pressing and I think that the pandemic has laid bare those social determinants of health in a critical way for our nation. I want to give our CEO Brian Pieninck credit since he recognized the need to go upstream with our philanthropic investments.

As Vice President of Community Health and Social Impact, our team is apart of the Health Services division, which leads the organization’s work to serve our members and the community, while seeking to make healthcare more affordable and accessible. Community health and social impacts are at the core of this organizations’ business practice. Our main goal is to have a measurable impact on community health — we want to use public health as our main priority. Public health ensures that we are investing in things that will close those social and economic disparities, while also expanding relationships with trusted stakeholders such as legislators, academic institutions, grassroots organizations, and more. I think it’s important to understand the role public health plays in our philanthropic giving because it ensures we are investing in social determinants and close the gap of those disparities.

This also represents a shift in our portfolio. Words that I hope stand out are equity, transformation, strong relationships with community-based organizations, nonprofit partnerships, and environmental impact.

We have five focus areas for investment priorities: economic development, educational opportunity, behavioral health, chronic conditions and accessible and affordable high quality care. Focusing our investments in these areas I think will truly be a game changer for our region.

DN: Can you tell us about your role at CareFirst and what you see as the goal of the work you and your team do every day

DSR: My long terms goals include ensuring that all stakeholder groups have access to high quality care and resources during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. We are not only addressing those clinical needs, but also how we can move the needle on social and economic needs as well. There are so many unknowns — such as the current strain on resources. The pandemic exacerbates the precarious nature of our system.

As we move forward, we are going to continue to show up as a philanthropic partner. We have made investments in telemedicine, closing gaps in food insecurity, and now we must also think of issues like digital equity for students who are learning virtually and do not have access to the technology they need. We want to play a role in ensuring that we are helping those struggling with education access and employment.

We are also preparing boxed meals for organizations that are delivered to beneficiaries. So far, we have delivered 20,000 meals to date in both Washington DC and Baltimore. When I look at some of the accomplishments of our organization, I think of things like covering telemedicine costs for our members, waiving cost sharing for in and out of network providers and more.We were very responsive and a good steward in supporting critical needs as they emerge.

DN: What effort of the many you have done during this public health emergency has impacted you the most

DSR: There are two that I want to highlight:

The first is the Baltimore Health Corps: I’m very proud of this because when the pandemic emerged, we were all having a hair on fire moment because it’s a health crisis, but it’s also an economic crisis, particularly for those who became unemployed. We sought to identify solutions that ensure the medical and clinical issues, as well as the economic issues, were remedied.

The Baltimore Health Corp has three goals: COVID-19 control and management, addressing employment by creating 300 new jobs for community health workers and addressing social needs. Addressing social needs ensures that contact tracing is not the end of the story and that those who are experiencing economic hardships get the help that they need and don’t maintain that vulnerability. The Baltimore Health Corps was formed in collaboration with the Baltimore City Mayors Office of Employment Development, Rockefeller Foundation, and many other partners.

I also want to talk briefly about our investments into personal protective equipment (PPE). We made a $5 million investment in PPEwhich is yet another example of how we are looking at things through an equity lens and thinking about the “little guy.”

Our CEO saw a need for PPE on small levels. We wanted to give those small organizations that may not have widespread access to PPE, such as social service organizations engaging in home visiting, access to the same safety that larger organizations have.

We managed to pull off an international donor supply network. Donation recipients go through a robust vulnerability assessment process based on elements such as being located in a COVID hotspot, English as a second language and many others. It makes me proud to use the power of an institution of our size to make the world a better place.

DN: What do you want individuals and families in this region to know about CareFirst’s dedication to their health and that of the community

DSR: Healthcare is a human right and there is a justice lens when you are speaking about something that all people deserve versus what all people can access. Our CEO believes fully in providing equitable access to quality care which is why we recently acquired two Medicaid plans. This acquisition represents writing a new script for healthcare. We are playing a role in pushing the industry from volume to value. We want to serve the best interest of our nation by removing barriers to care and by partnering with communities, while also supporting our frontline providers to create that vision of health. That is not just a CareFirst story — we are a major player in a bigger picture. We want to reduce costs and create healthier and longer lives.

DN: Can you close by giving us a sneak peek of what efforts you have planned as the public health crisis continues its hold on our region and nation

DSR: We want our audience and anyone who interacts with CareFirst to feel valued, not just by eliminating sickness, but by also emphasizing health and wellbeing. We love being a partner and a difference maker in the industry that helps to eliminate disparities to create more equitable access to healthier lives.

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