VITALS Feb. 4: Toyin Ajayi

Growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, Toyin Ajayi, M.D., felt her privilege. 

Her parents raised her two younger sisters and her to understand that their own economic security and good health came with a responsibility to help others less fortunate. And she could see that if not for the buffer of her family’s financial situation, the plight of those who could not access medicine for this unknown, frightening illness could have been her own. “They looked like me,” she said simply, in a recent interview.

That empathy grew into a wish “to serve all amongst us.” It propelled her to earn an undergraduate degree from Stanford University and a medical degree from King’s College London School of Medicine. It led her to serve as chief medical officer of Commonwealth Care Alliance, a health plan and care delivery system for patients covered by Medicare and Medicaid. And it inspired her to co-found  Cityblock Health, which describes itself as “the first tech-driven provider for communities with complex health and social needs.”

What does that entail? Dr. Ajayi will have plenty of time to tell the online audience or answer their questions when she appears at 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, as the guest speaker on NEOMED’s VITALS: Visionary Health Leadership in Action speaker series. 

During a recent conversation, she offered tantalizing glimpses of the range and ambition of this innovative company, which provides health care access to Medicaid and lower-income Medicare beneficiaries.          

Cityblock Health is not simply a tech-only solution. It’s not an app, says Dr. Ajayi (pronounced a JYE-ee), who serves as Chief Health Officer. Part of its mission is to help coordinate care for people with lower incomes, helping them to overcome social determinants of health that hold them back from wellness. In addition, Cityblock delivers both primary and mental health care. This combination distinguishes it from either a physician’s office or a social services agency. It’s more like a blend of health care and care management, says Dr. Ajayi. 

“When we talk about Cityblock being tech-enabled, we really talk about technology supporting real human relationships, to enable people to get what they need,” she says.

What would that mean, say, for older adults trying to get scheduled for a COVID-19 vaccination, but stymied by having to deal with unclear procedures, unfamiliar computer technology, or other roadblocks?   

It could mean having a community health partner who is a member of the Cityblock care team meet somebody in their home (following COVID-19 safety guidelines) to help them register online and accompany them to get the vaccine or provide transportation for the appointment, as needed, says Dr. Ajayi. The goal is “to bridge all of the gaps that prevent someone from getting needed care.”

Through the telemedicine explosion during the COVID-19 pandemic, her team has learned a tremendous amount about how to enable and support people to get access to technology, she says. 

Dr. Ajayi’s experience living on four continents and training in the British health care system have influenced this physician’s business model for Cityblock and how she believes medicine in the U.S. should be practiced. These and additional topics – including the planned 2022 expansion of Cityblock into Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland in a partnership with Molina Healthcare of Ohio – are all fodder for discussion during the VITALS webinar. 

The physician-leader will have 17 minutes to speak, touching on any VITALS topics: value-based, innovation, technology, advocacy, leadership, service. For the remainder of the hour, Dr. Ajayi will answer questions from the online audience. 

Cheryl Powell, managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, will moderate the event, stepping in for series moderator Monica Robins, senior health correspondent for WKYC-TV.  

Register here for the webinar at 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4.

Continuing Education credit is available. The one-hour event is free.

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