COVID-19 and Racial Disparities: Transforming the Health of Businesses

Pandemics and Protests: Transforming the Health of American Businesses
Margarita Alegría, PhD, Chief of the Disparities Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital

American businesses and their leadership are at a crossroads. COVID-19 has forced us all to re-evaluate how we work and live, while the current protest movements have placed a spotlight on the systemic injustices non-white workers face both in and out of the office. Given that communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, companies serious about doing right by their employees need to act decisively and clearly or risk becoming complicit in the racial and social inequities we so desperately need to correct.

The mass lay-offs and furloughs, erratic work schedules, limited sick leave benefits, and low wages have become a testament of how employers can play a role in the financial fragility and hardship of their employees. Throughout my career as a researcher and educator, I’ve seen institutions successfully make progress around racial/ethnic health disparities. In these instances, leadership has taken decisive action to review how policies and employee regulations—both explicit and implicit—have contributed to the disparities. This process needs to be ongoing, requiring company leadership to have the courage to commit to social change.

In the wake of the current social justice movement, many companies have put out statements of support for the protest movement, highlighting how they are working to address racial injustice. But these statements have been met with skepticism, especially from former and current Black employees, many of whom experienced circumstances where they did voice concerns to managers or leadership, but those concerns were ignored or left in limbo.

We’re seeing this buildup of lack of trust in workplaces across the country, especially in light of the pandemic. Consider this through the lens of reopening. The first step in determining how to open safely for all employees is listening to employees and their unique concerns. If employers truly want to reopen safely, they need to be open to receiving feedback, even when it might be tough to hear.

Once employers have employee opinion and advice, they must devise a plan for addressing their concerns, identifying what arsenal of expertise and partnerships are needed to make sustainable social change and protect employee health. Each company will have a different reopening plan depending on their needs, location, and available resources and will have to use their creativity as employers deal with the pain of serious financial losses while still committing to safeguarding employee health.

Crucially, leadership should evaluate health insurance coverage at every level of the company, as equitable access to healthcare and healthcare information via employers can go a long way in addressing a company’s racial inequalities. Further, access and information are powerful tools for alleviating anxiety, encouraging trust, and diminishing uncertainty, such as:

– Are all your employees covered for medical benefits?

– Do they know what COVID-19 related procedures and treatments are covered under their current plans?

– Can these be expanded to be ready for the next pandemic?

Trust also requires employers to regularly and critically evaluate the solutions they have put into place for employees, especially digital solutions. Digital health evaluations and AI health screening tools can appear to simplify the burden of addressing health or racial concerns.  But, these tools also have faced their own issues around racial and gender bias. The guidance provided by these tools is only as good as the data that informs the platform. Employers must ask hard questions about how comfortable employees are disclosing health information, in addition to interrogating what data is informing their guidance and how confidential is the disclosed information. AI and other digital platforms are not band-aids for companies that are looking to reopen, they are part of a larger action plan that must be informed by employees’ needs and the latest expert guidance around how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Regardless of the pandemic, companies, and institutions that have historically made any progress around racial diversity and inclusion have actively incorporated social justice into their mission. In the midst of a pandemic, that commitment is even more critical.

The process of addressing disparities can be painful, but if companies are serious about reopening safely, they must face these realities head-on. If the commitment is real, the company evolves to a place with better employee loyalty and a stronger reputation. In today’s world, this progress will literally save lives.

About Margarita Alegría, PhD

Margarita Alegría, PhD is the Chief of the Disparities Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She is also a member of the Buoy Health Back with Care™ advisory board. She is one of the country’s leading health disparities researchers, and her expertise on the role of health disparities during COVID-19 has been highlighted in publications that include USA TodayThe Hill, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

#Healthin2Point00, Episode 166 | $100 million, scandal, & more

Today on Health in 2 Point 00, we have scandal, drama, intrigue, $100 million and murder! Wait, no; not murder. On Episode 166, we catch up on more deals before Jess gets carried away again. The $100 million goes to Carbon Health in a Series C, which is another Bay Area-based primary care startup; they’re doing a lot of work in COVID testing and growing fast. Next we have many health plans uniting with Cigna Ventures, Humana, and Anthem all investing in Buoy Health which just raised $37.5 million in a Series C. That leads us to a scandal with the former CEO of Navigating Cancer suing Merck’s Global Health Innovation Fund. Finally, in the world of DTx, NightWare has received FDA clearance for its Apple Watch app designed to wake people with PTSD up from nightmares. —Matthew Holt

Buoy Health Raises $37.5M to Expand AI-Powered Healthcare Navigation Platform

Buoy Health Raises $37.5M to Expand AI-Powered Healthcare Navigation Platform

What You Should Know:

– Buoy Health raises $37.5 million in Series C funding to
expand it’s AI-powered healthcare navigation platform, bringing its total raised
to date at $66.5M.

– Buoy will use the proceeds to further build out its IP with respect to artificial intelligence and other technologies, as well as grow the Buoy team.

Buoy Health, a
Boston, MA-based AI-powered
healthcare navigation platform, today announced the completion of a $37.5
million Series C funding round. Cigna Ventures and Humana led the funding round
and were joined by Optum Ventures,
WR Hambrecht + Co, and Trustbridge Partners. To date,
Buoy has raised $66.5 million.

AI-Powered Healthcare Navigation

Today, hospitals and insurance companies are increasingly
investing in digital health innovations like Buoy to solve problems related to
accessing the healthcare system and helping patients to get to the right care
setting on the first attempt.  By
addressing the problem that happens when people attempt to search their
symptoms online,

Founded in 2014 by a team of doctors and computer scientists working at the
Harvard Innovation Laboratory, Buoy Health uses AI technology to provide
personalized clinical support the moment an individual has a health concern. Buoy
navigates people through the healthcare system intelligently, delivering triage
at scale, and connecting them with the right care endpoints at the right time
based on self-reported symptoms.

Expansion Plans

Buoy will use the proceeds to further build out its IP with respect to artificial intelligence and other technologies, as well as grow the Buoy team. The fundraise will advance Buoy’s clinical and insurance-based navigation capabilities to help move the individual to a more consumer-friendly healthcare journey.

Recent Milestones

As of the Series C close, Buoy has helped nearly one million
Americans assess symptoms and locate the best places for them to seek care in
their community during the COVID-19 pandemic. As one of the first digital
health companies in the U.S. to respond to the pandemic, Buoy was an early
leader in connecting individuals to care at the right time, saving more than
29,764 medical professionals’ hours, or 1,240 days.

Buoy also launched Back With Care, an employer platform that
provides health resource navigation, risk assessment and personalized guidance
for the transition back into the workplace for employers and employees across
the country. With numerous tech companies and large healthcare organizations launching
consumer-centric offerings to tackle this issue, Buoy remains committed to
humanizing the healthcare journey and assessing the COVID-19 risk in connection
with getting back to physical offices.

“We are honored by the continued support and commitment in Buoy from many of the industry’s most influential insurers and are proud to be working with a group of investors that truly believe in our mission to make healthcare more personalized and convenient,” said Andrew Le, MD, CEO and co-founder of Buoy Health.

Le continued, “Buoy was founded on the idea that turning to the internet for answers when you are sick can be overwhelming, confusing, and inefficient. I’m proud of the work we’ve done to help more than 9 million individuals make more informed decisions for their health, and the tools we have built to help consumers and employers navigate COVID-19. From the moment an individual has questions about their health, to ensuring they get the support they need as they seek care, Buoy will serve as the sidewalk to every possible front door of care, navigating the individual through their healthcare journey.”