Novant Health: Bringing Resources Back to the Community


Novant Health Headquarters, Huntersville, N.C.

The Black AIDS Institute's Heroes in the Struggle Gala and Award Celebration honors, in a star-studded event and photographic tribute, individuals and organizations that, over the past year, have made a heroic contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Below, one in a series profiling the 2017 honorees.

Through generosity and commitment, this year's Corporate Hero in the Struggle Award recipient, Novant Health, has proved to be a true asset in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. The award-winning regional health-care system—an integrated network of physician clinics, outpatient facilities and hospitals serving communities in Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia—has expanded its AIDS initiatives in underserved communities in order to cover new populations and educate doctors about the benefits of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.

Consistent with the company's mission statement "to improve the health of communities, one person at a time," in 2014, Ophelia Garmon-Brown, M.D., the company's senior vice president of community wellness and education, began to include HIV/AIDS in the company's health-crisis initiatives. Data from the company's grassroots program to test for diabetes, hypertension and obesity in underserved communities, Remarkable You, showed that HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C were prevalent. This discovery led Novant Health to partner with the Mecklenburg, N.C., city commissioners and the Mecklenburg Health Department to sponsor a Black AIDS Institute community update from the 2014 International AIDS Conference.

"We were able to get a better understanding of the community, and that caused us to become more engaged in this work," says David Cook, M.D., Novant Health's senior vice president of value-based care and health-care futurist, who collaborated with Dr. Garmon-Brown.

The Mecklenburg partnership took on a whole new meaning in 2014, when Novant sponsored the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Basketball Tournament. "We knew the audience of African Americans would be large, and I knew that 85 percent of the new cases of HIV/AIDS in Mecklenburg County are among people of color. So we decided to add HIV testing as well as hepatitis C testing," says Dr. Garman-Brown of the company's outreach during the tournament.

Novant Health continued to sponsor the CIAA in 2015 and 2016, screening as many as 600 attendees for HIV and hepatitis C, with its on-site lab providing immediate results that allowed people testing positive to be directed to counseling and follow-up medical appointments.

In addition, the company provided the seed money for the BTAN Charlotte chapter and co-sponsored events until it was fully up and running. "It was clear that in Charlotte we needed a chapter, and we decided to speed up the process to start BTAN Charlotte solely through the work of Novant Health," says Dr. Cook, who recently joined the Institute's board. Indeed, Novant Health scholarships allowed the BTAN Charlotte co-chairs to attend the African American HIV University (AAHU) in Los Angeles.

"Giving me that scholarship and making me an AAHU [Fellow] was huge in getting BTAN Charlotte established," says co-chair Jeffrey Edwards-Knight. "Having their name recognition associated with our BTAN chapter was a huge help."

In conjunction with the Black AIDS Institute, Novant Health has sponsored the National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and PrEP Awareness Forum since 2014.

"Novant Health's support for BTAN Charlotte is the perfect example of what it means to be a leader of excellence in health and community engagement, allowing community members to be the experts in educating and reducing risks in communities most impacted by HIV," says BTAN Charlotte co-chair Darrin K. Johnson. "Novant Health continues to be at the forefront of communities of color, helping to reduce health disparities and dismantle inequities. It's the perfect partnership for the mission of BTAN; it's the perfect relationship for BTAN Charlotte."

To date, Novant Health has concentrated its efforts in Mecklenburg County, where the company sees the greatest need. "As we continue to reach out, we will work with the other states. HIV now impacts people that are brown more than any other. And whenever things start happening to brown people, dollars and research tend not to be as lucrative; they slow down," Dr. Garmon-Brown says.

"We want to make sure we're making the patients aware, the community aware; that we're treating aggressively and we're preventing aggressively," Dr. Cook says. "At this point we are more invested in this work than ever before to bring some resources back into the community."

The Heroes in the Struggle Gala and Award Celebration will take place Sept. 16, 2017, in the Darryl F. Zanuck Theater at 20th Century Fox Studios in Los Angeles. To purchase tickets, become a sponsor, join the host committee or place an advertisement in the program book, click here or contact Wendell Miller at or 213-353-3610, ext. 105.

April Eugene is a Philadelphia-based writer.