It all started last spring when America was starting to come to terms with the grave impact of the pandemic on underserved communities. I reached out to a policy director at Lyft named April Mims. Not many people know this, but I had been moonlighting at night as a Lyft driver for over a year. The experience gave me insight into how ridesharing could provide needed medical transportation options for underserved communities. April and I realized then that we had similar values, priorities and concerns about access to care for underserved communities. We agreed to stay in touch...

Fast forward to the Fall of 2020, and April reached back out to me. She had just joined telehealth company Hims & Hers and had spent the past ten years using her position at nonprofits and startups to advance equity issues. She was looking to bring this focus to her new work in telehealth policy, and I was too. “I know from my personal experience that there is nothing more disempowering than feeling like the system that is supposed to help you when you are most vulnerable is working against you,” she said.

As many of you know, I am a proud South Bronx and East Harlem native who has been working in health equity for most of my professional career. I’ve worked with some incredible people from all walks of life. Unfortunately, our work in healthcare is often done in silos, with little opportunity to learn from and collaborate with one another. One of the core missions of NHIT that I've advanced is to serve as a convener for organizations to work together.

That’s why I’m proud to announce NHIT’s role as a founding member of the Telehealth Equity Coalition (TEC). Working in partnership with Hims & Hers and many other organizations, TEC will bring together grassroots advocates, nonprofits, and industry to improve equitable access to telehealth.  We believe telehealth has the potential to improve or exacerbate our health disparities, depending on the steps we take right now. This Coalition will have access to NHIT’s newly launched Data Fusion Center, an initiative that includes Amazon Web Services (AWS), Tyler Technologies, several professors, and Fellows from the Master of Science graduate program in the Applied Health Informatics program at Stony Brook University. This team has worked tirelessly on the NHIT Fusion Center to ingest, clean, and publish approximately 100 million rows and 3,500 features (and counting) of traditional and non-traditional information to better understand health and wellness changes beyond traditional markers.

So friends and colleagues: I invite all of you to join us in this exciting journey with TEC. Whether you are new to health equity or a seasoned veteran, a nonprofit organization or a large company, wherever you sit on the political spectrum---all are welcome. All are needed during this critical juncture in our Nation’s history.  

As my mentor, Rep. Donna Christianson said, “There are moments when we all must get out of our usual silos and come together to help solve big challenges. The tragic reality of the pandemic is one of those moments.” As long as you’re committed to TEC’s mission and values, you have a role to play.

In Partnership,

Luis Belen