Introducing the Community Ecosystem Learning Collaborative: Develop a complex care ecosystem in your community

Strengthening ecosystems of care Convening

By Rebecca Koppel, Program Manager for Field Building & Resources

At last year’s National Center conference, Putting Care at the Center 2019, we focused on the theme It takes an ecosystem: Complex care across the community. Speakers and workshop leaders discussed the importance of cross-sector sector collaboration to address root causes of complex needs.

That conference was just the beginning of the National Center’s efforts to encourage and support complex care ecosystems across the country. A few months after the 2019 conference, COVID-19 spread across the United States and increased the urgency and need for effective cross-sector partnerships to deliver integrated and equitable healthcare and social services.

The National Center, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is convening a results- and action-oriented learning collaborative. The Community Ecosystem Learning Collaborative will support organizations as they develop and strengthen “ecosystem” approaches to addressing the root causes of individuals’ and populations’ complex health and social needs. Complex care ecosystems are composed of organizations across sectors within a community, working collectively and intentionally to better address the gaps in our systems that keep people with complex needs from achieving health and well-being. 

At least five selected communities will receive 15 months of individualized technical assistance from National Center staff and will participate in a learning collaborative consisting of all of the teams. Participants will share their respective experiences and mutually support each other’s efforts.

Are you looking to take your complex care program to the next level in your community? To apply, see the request for proposals (RFP) and submit your application by January 15, 2021.

What is a learning collaborative?

Learning collaboratives are a new offering from the National Center. They combine learning and social connectedness to provide both peer-to-peer and expert-to-peer learning. Through learning communities, peer organizations from around the country come together to focus on a problem, explore that challenge, and co-create solutions. Because this process happens in community, successes are shared and each site can adapt insights to their context.

Our partners have a long history of leading learning communities. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a member of the Field Coordinating Committee, offers a number of collaboratives based on the Breakthrough Series model. The Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS), another member of the Field Coordinating Committee, has also led numerous, successful learning communities with organizations and groups across the country. Outcomes from these and other learning communities show that they work. Participants are more engaged than through traditional didactic methods, participants endorse learning communities, and they have been shown to support the improvement of health outcomes.

What is a complex care ecosystem?

Durably improving outcomes for patients with complex health and social needs requires addressing not only the symptoms of these needs – e.g., chronic conditions, frequent emergency room use – but their root causes as well. Addressing root causes like poverty, homelessness, and isolation is complicated by the fragmented and inequitable nature of health and social services systems, by the interconnectedness of a patient’s complex needs, and by the lack of resources to meet those needs. 

Across the country, advocates and model-builders are developing programs to address specific complex needs and help patients navigate fragmented systems. There is increasing understanding, however, that the impact of these initiatives will be limited when a robust, supportive complex care ecosystem is lacking in the local community.

Complex care ecosystems are interrelated groups of organizations across health and human services sectors working collectively and intentionally to better impact vulnerable and often marginalized populations. We introduced the idea of a complex care ecosystem in our Blueprint for Complex Care. However, limitations in data sharing, payment mechanisms, and trust between sectors that serve people with complex needs make building complex care ecosystems no easy task — especially in the current crisis state. Furthermore, individual advocates and model-builders cannot bridge these gaps alone. Creating functioning, collaborative ecosystems requires building relationships within communities as well as with peers doing similar work across the country.

Our hope is that the Community Ecosystem Learning Collaborative will help the selected sites build robust complex care ecosystems in their communities, and that lessons from the learning collaborative will also provide the complex care field with key insights into ecosystem development. 

How can I learn more?

The National Center will select at least five sites to participate in a 15-month learning collaborative beginning on April 6, 2021. To find more information, please see the RFP and application and apply by January 15, 2021.

The National Center staff held an Office Hours webinar during which they reviewed the learning collaborative, the RFP, the application, and important dates. You can find the recording here.

If you have any questions about the application process, please contact Rebecca Koppel, Program Manager for Field Building and Resources, at [email protected].

Download the RFP

Apply for the Community Ecosystem Learning Collaborative