Ambassadors of Health

City Health Works is bridging the gap between the doctor's office and the everyday lives of patients diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses.

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Inspired by community health innovations in the developing countries of Haiti, Uganda, and India, Manmeet Kaur '12 founded City Health Works to bring the best aspects of low-cost community health systems to the United States — starting in the neighborhood of Harlem in New York City. Since its launch in 2012, City Health Works has gained increased national recognition for its impact and potential in redesigning the way healthcare is paid for and delivered. Today, City Health Works is a trusted partner to several major health systems, and was recently selected to serve as the inaugural Janice Nittoli Fellow with the Urban Institute to conduct research to support the case for expansion of their approach with health system partners across the country.

Here, Manmeet shares more about their story.

Tell us about City Health Works.

Managing complex medical and social needs is challenging, especially for older adults struggling with multiple chronic illnesses and poverty. Fifty percent of healthcare spending is on five percent of the population. Yet, many of the activities required to manage the day-to-day realities of living with chronic illnesses take place in the home.

We are closing the critical gap between what happens in the doctor’s office and what happens when people go home. Built alongside the formal health system, but embedded in communities, we are shifting the center of healthcare from hospitals to the places where people live, work, and play. Through motivational health coaching and ongoing care coordination, City Health Works equips patients with the knowledge, capabilities, and confidence to attain and maintain better health and avert crises. Additionally, we are extending the reach of overburdened clinics by serving as vital eyes and ears to clinicians and providing support to patients facing complex medical, socio-economic and cultural barriers.

Our success is grounded in our commitment to elevating the voice and experiences of our patients and families to the systems that serve them. Simultaneously, we are generating rewarding jobs with career trajectories for locally-hired coaches, and the impact of this network is increasing connectedness and social support among neighbors.

What have been the biggest challenges in growing City Health Works?

City Health Works is creating a new paradigm of care. In creating something new, the biggest challenge has been changing the perception in the industry that our work and successes are not just a notable “innovation,” but a scalable solution that should become the norm. This requires pushing our colleagues at health systems — within and beyond NYC — to think differently about the role of the healthcare system in enabling patients to attain control of their health.

What has been the most rewarding part of this journey?

The most rewarding part of this journey has been working with my team and our talented health coaches to create a meaningful solution and organizational culture. Our coaches are hired from the neighborhood we serve — currently, Harlem. They bring a passion for this work that is grounded in shared life experiences with our patients — some of them live with the same health issues, while nearly all have lost family members to preventable complications.

Furthermore, I am proud of seeing our health coaches become confident and emboldened in their role as advocates. Along the way, I have watched each coach build his or her own confidence as an advocate, leader, and driver of change in the overwhelming environment of healthcare. They have become increasingly vocal and skilled at helping patients advocate for themselves when navigating complex medical and social services.

What advice would you give to a Columbia student with entrepreneurial aspirations?

The three pieces of advice to students with entrepreneurial aspirations are the following: First, start working on your venture as soon as you start school. Even if you are considering other career paths, begin immediately so that you can apply your business idea to every class and take advantage of the time you have in business school to stress test your ideas. Second, take a long-term perspective on your venture. In a world obsessed with quick wins, be thorough and persistent with your exploration to help determine whether your business idea is sound and to build a strong foundation for its growth. Finally, surround yourself with good people. Great organizations are usually the result of collective creativity, wisdom, and sweat of many people. Nurture meaningful relationships with supporters, colleagues, and advisors who will help you succeed.

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