The Latest Funder Tackling Disparities To Improve Health Outcomes

photo: Chaikom/shutterstock

photo: Chaikom/shutterstock

The (BMS) recently gave $982,000 to the Cooper Foundation, the philanthropic arm of one of the largest healthcare systems in southern New Jersey, for better care for heart disease for vulnerable populations.

The BMS foundation, the giving arm of the Bristol-Myers Squibb pharmaceutical company, is no stranger to the healthcare scene. Most of its grantmaking focuses on a handful of diseases, usually linked  to a geographic area. The foundation typically funds initiatives combating cancer in Europe, HIV/AIDS in Africa, hepatitis in Asia, and cancer and HIV at home in the U.S. BMS also supports mental health programs for returning military.

In some ways, this gift is in line with that pattern. It hems in its focus on a single ailment, even though that strays from the usual suspects. However, it deviates from the BMS norm in one important way—its focus on health disparities.

The gift represents a relatively new funding stream for BMA, said Lisa McCormick Lavery, the foundation’s communications director. The foundation is shifting its support to removing care barriers for vulnerable and under-resourced populations.

“Social and health system barriers such as poverty and a lack of healthcare providers affect a patient’s ability to access and navigate specialty healthcare. These barriers can lead to patients either significantly delaying or discontinuing care, or—worst of all—forgoing the care recommended for them,” McCormick Lavery said.

The donation to the Cooper Foundation is a small piece of a larger strategy. “This national initiative seeks to improve and expand care in safety net settings for medically underserved people who are living with cancer, HIV and cardiovascular diseases through care collaborations and patient engagement and social support,” she said.

The Cooper Foundation project will work with Medicaid patients who have a history of heart issues or frequent hospital visits in Camden, New Jersey. The focus will be on the social determinants of health, connecting patients to community resources, supporting lifestyle changes, and helping patients keep up with medications. Teams of nurses, health coaches, and clinical pharmacists with doctor oversight will work with patients. The hope is to find a model that can be replicated elsewhere.

This isn’t BMS’ first foray into tackling health disparities, but in the past, its work in the space has happened abroad. A few years ago, the foundation put up $1.2 million to improve health outcomes for women with cervical cancer in Tanzania. Cervical cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers in eastern African countries.

Related: What Preventable Killer Disease is This Pharma Foundation Fighting in East Africa?

In the west, cervical cancer is one of the more treatable types of cancer, but lack of screening tools for early detection makes it much more deadly in Tanzania and countries like it. The BMS grant went to improving the chances of Tanzanian women using the infrastructure the foundation had built through its work on HIV/AIDS in the country.

BMS’ latest gift and the foundation’s new funding stream acknowledge that disparities in health and treatment also exist at home. It’s part of a growing movement among funders to look upstream at social and economic factors that affect health, including where people live and work.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation pioneered the field, but other funders, including corporate givers like Aetna and Humana, are taking note. BMS is the latest funder to look outside the doctor’s office in its quest to improve health outcomes.