Toyota Motor North America’s search for medical experts to guide the car company’s $8.5 million Way Forward Fund to strengthen access to care and injury recovery support brought the corporation to Wayne State University’s Herman Gray, M.D., M.B.A., FAAP.
The Way Forward Fund is a multi-year initiative for individuals and families, with an initial focus on children with traumatic brain injuries.
“Toyota was looking for a pediatric advisor in Michigan that knew and understood the landscape of children’s hospitals and pediatrics in southeast Michigan and could help identify potential collaborating organizations,” Dr. Gray said. “Toyota also wanted to be sure they would be able to impact vulnerable and underserved children and families and meaningfully address social determinants of health and health disparities. Having been a leader in the children’s hospital world for quite some time, and with a personal interest in serving under-represented minorities and addressing health disparities, it felt like a good fit.”
Dr. Gray is the distinguished service professor and chair of the School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics. He also leads Wayne Pediatrics and is former president and chief executive officer of Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Dr. Gray, along with an attending pediatric emergency physician from Dallas and a national traumatic brain injury expert from Philadelphia, make up the fund’s external advisory board.
The advisors’ responsibilities include working with the Toyota team to help identify worthwhile service or research projects to support, help identify local or national organizations that would be good partners, assist the Toyota team with strategic planning for future efforts and provide expert medical opinions as needed.
He joined the advisory board last September to see what a large multi-national company like Toyota could do to impact child health.
In its first year, grants totaling $8.5 million will be made available to select institutions with an emphasis on raising quality of care in communities with the greatest need. This includes support for a wide range of resources and technologies designed to advance TBI treatment and recovery. Toyota intends to award additional grants in subsequent years with the goal of creating a sustainable program with long-term impact.
A grant to Michigan’s Corewell Health announced in February will focus on improving the quality of care that children with head injuries receive wherever they enter the health care system.
“Corewell has a number of hospitals in metropolitan Detroit, and a significant number of Detroit children receive care in Corewell hospitals. Most importantly, as we learn how to improve TBI care and outcomes, all children will benefit from those learnings,” Dr. Gray said.
According to National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, TBI is a major pediatric health condition that is often under-recognized. More than 2.8 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury each year, 2.5 million of which visit an emergency department. Children account for 32% of TBI-related emergency department visits, while they only account for 22% of the United States population. However, current TBI funding is focused mostly on adults, with limited resources available to advance care and outcomes for children.
Funded activities will include programmatic operations designed to support children and their families, research and development of innovations and technologies that advance treatment, and provision of equipment to increase access to tools for treatment.
“With the guidance of our expert advisors, we want to help strengthen and expand access to support systems for children with traumatic brain injuries as well as their families,” said Tellis Bethel, chief social innovation officer, Toyota Motor North America.
Future phases will expand support to additional states and populations in need, with the goal of supporting systems for children and their families in a sustainable way.
“As I've come to know the people involved in the Way Forward Fund, I've been very impressed with their commitment to making a difference in the lives of children and families. As expected in a highly complex and competitive business as automobile manufacturing is, there are many very talented employees. It’s been interesting to see how much financial and personnel resources have been committed to this project, and the enthusiasm and pride for the project that exists within the company,” Dr. Gray added.
He also appreciates representing Wayne State University and Wayne Pediatrics in a highly visible project designed to improve child health, “demonstrating our ability to collaborate at a high level and showing the capabilities and the strength of our department and university.”
“While that is personally rewarding, more importantly it brings respectful and positive attention to our beloved urban research university,” he said.