"Of all forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane." — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
At this point one month ago, the wounds of George Floyd’s death were fresh as protests across the country called attention to the racial injustices faced by people of color in our society. Together with then MHA Board Chair John Fox, I made it clear that racial inequities present in Michigan communities are unacceptable and must end. Since then, healthcare leaders and organizations across the country have declared racism a public health emergency, conveying the seriousness and urgency that is being dedicated to the issue. At the MHA, we’ve held to our promise to listen, and we will continue to do so to be a part of the solution to eliminate implicit bias and inequities in care and to address social determinants of health.
A fresh reminder of inequities in care and social determinants of health can be seen in how COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color in southeast Michigan. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, recently testified to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, stating that the COVID-19 pandemic “has also further unveiled the tragic injustice of racial inequality in our society.” Food deserts, lack of readily available transportation and access to healthcare are all key social determinants of health that can lead to higher rates of obesity, heart disease and hypertension, which increases the risk of suffering adverse effects from COVID-19. While we may not be able to prevent the spread of a novel virus to our country, we can influence the health of our communities and our communities’ ability to respond to an outbreak. Within our organizations, we’re currently evaluating improvements our organizations can take to be better prepared for a surge of COVID-19 patients, such as increasing inventory of personal protective equipment, expanding bed capacity, ensuring vulnerable populations have access to testing and appropriate care and improving infectious disease protocols. At the same time, we can and should make an impact by helping the populations of our communities eliminate barriers to achieving a healthy lifestyle.
Another stark reminder of our need to address health disparities in our state is maternal mortality and the fact that women of color are 2.4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes in Michigan. During this year’s State of the State address, Gov. Whitmer brought attention to this issue that the MHA Keystone Center has been actively working to improve. While we work to remove implicit bias within society, one clear target for our attention is the health of our mothers and their babies.
Improving health equity is a giant lift, but the MHA Keystone Center is equipped to support healthcare systems in leading this change. Besides just focusing on improving maternal health outcomes, the MHA Keystone Center will soon be releasing a new guide, Eliminating Disparities to Advance Health Equity and Improve Quality. This tool will be used by our member hospitals to first identify health disparities within their communities and then develop a plan for how best to address them. The guide will direct our members on how to ensure equitable care is provided to all patients through an organizational approach that starts with establishing health equity as a strategic priority. While acknowledging the problem and the issues that cause it is half the battle, the guide outlines concrete actions that can be implemented today to drive improvement moving forward.
There is no question that ensuring health equity needs to be a focus for the MHA and the healthcare field moving forward. Despite the examples of improving health equity, more can still be done. The MHA is a member of the American Hospital Association Institute for Diversity, and just as we work closely with the AHA on a range of federal advocacy issues, we will be collaborating with them on this effort as well. The mission of the MHA is to advance the health of ALL individuals and communities, and that mission has never been more relevant than today.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.