“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” — Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The past two years have sharpened the focus on several aspects of healthcare, none more so than efforts to achieve health equity throughout our communities and to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within our healthcare organizations and communities. February is Black History Month, which makes it a perfect time to reflect on the areas where we, as healthcare leaders, can do better to promote the elimination of unconscious bias and to address the social determinants of health such as access to transportation, housing and healthy food, while also expanding our DEI efforts.
There is no question that COVID-19 and the momentum behind social justice reform in 2020 served as a force multiplier for many in this arena. The data is clear that, throughout the pandemic, minorities have suffered worse health outcomes from COVID-19, and we need to fully understand the reasons why.
I’m proud to say that the MHA Keystone Center, our association’s safety and quality organization, has already become deeply engaged in this space. Our efforts to date have included the release of the Eliminating Disparities to Advance Health Equity and Improve Quality guide and the MHA Board of Trustees pledge to Address Racism and Health Inequities, which includes a commitment to listen, to act and to lead. This pledge has since been universally embraced by our member hospitals throughout the state, which sets us on a positive path forward. As I have pointed out many times in the past, because hospitals are often the largest employer in their respective communities, we have an extraordinary opportunity to lead by example in all that we do.
Moving forward into 2022, our member hospitals will soon need to ensure compliance with a new state law, fully supported by the MHA, that requires unconscious bias training for all clinicians. Many of our hospitals were providing this sort of training well before the passage of this legislation, and we are eager to continue this work.
As with so many other issues, we are also very fortunate to have strong partners in the American Hospital Association (AHA), in this case with its Institute for Diversity and Health Equity (IFDHE) that offers a wide range of resources and initiatives to pursue health equity from a variety of areas. Together, the AHA and the IFDHE are helping to increase leadership opportunities for ethnic minorities, as they have historically been underrepresented in healthcare management.
We have come a long way in recent years, as we now have an organized, orchestrated effort within our hospitals and health systems to address these important issues. Today, positions and departments have been created, including C-suite leadership roles, that have influence on the actions both inside the hospital and outside with community partners. Just as this is an all-hands-on-deck effort throughout the care continuum, the same holds true with community partners in addressing the many vexing issues that contribute to poor health outcomes. The fact that we have leadership in place to guide this process is a testament to the commitment of our member CEOs and is an encouraging development for further things to come.
We also have a strong culture of shared learning in our state, and the willingness of hospitals and health systems to collect and share data (including race, ethnicity and language, or REAL, data) and best practices is encouraging and impactful. Despite our progress, we still have a long way to go, and I encourage any leader or organization that has not done so already to join the MHA on this journey. For too long our hospitals have treated the end results of years of health disparities, and the time is now for us to be leaders in driving change.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.