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Bold ideas shared at Urban Health Summit in Camden

Poverty is inexorably linked to poor health. It is associated with higher incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and many other illnesses.

This is especially true in urban settings like Camden, NJ, where 43 percent live below the poverty line, over 30 percent of children are overweight or obese, and the average life expectancy is 72.3 years – more than six years less than in nearby suburbs.

Last week, some of the country’s brightest minds and strongest advocates for improving public health in our nation’s economically-distressed urban locations – members of the University Cooperative on Urban Health – visited Camden for their annual summit. The two-day event focused on the challenges facing U.S. medical schools in underserved urban communities and provided members with the opportunity to share best practices for health care delivery and community outreach. The group also explored opportunities to increase national awareness of issues surrounding health equity, health disparities and social determinants of health, particularly in under-served urban communities.

Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) is a member of this consortium and served as the host of this year’s summit at its brand new medical education building at 401 S. Broadway, in downtown Camden. The group also includes medical schools located in Tulsa, New Orleans, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles and Detroit.

"The reasons for the correlation between poverty and poor health are complex," explained Jocelyn Mitchell-Williams, MD, PhD, CMSRU’s Associate Dean of Multicultural Affairs and Community Outreach. "This event brought together like-minded medical educators who believe that this link can be broken, that being economically disadvantaged does not have to mean a lifetime of poor health."

Dr. Mitchell-Williams pointed to the groundbreaking work being done by the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, led by CMSRU physician Jeffrey Brenner, MD. The Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers was created with the overarching mission to improve the health status of all Camden residents by increasing the capacity, quality, and access to care in the city.

Featured in The New Yorker and on Frontline, the Camden Coalition has become a national model for reducing health care costs while improving quality of care for the poor. Dr. Brenner was one of the keynote presenters at this year’s event, and shared information on his effort to develop an Accountable Care Organization in Camden.

Another highlight of the event was a talk entitled "Red State Reform: Medical Schools as Servant Leaders for Health Equity in An Era of Health Reform," by Gerard Clancy, MD, President of Oklahoma University-Tulsa. Dr. Clancy addressed the responsibility medical schools have in the health care reform debate to advocate for the needs of their communities.

Additionally, Mark A. Nivet, Ed.D., Chief Diversity Officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges, spoke on workforce development for community health improvement. Other sessions analyzed medical school curriculums, community outreach efforts, and health care delivery systems.

This consortium was a small gathering of national experts, but the bold ideas and innovative strategies presented could help set the stage for significant changes in health care delivery in the future -- changes that could improve the lives and health of the millions of people living in impoverished urban settings across the country.