Three Essential Steps Toward Healthcare Justice

Published December 03, 2020

Vituity hosted an engaging discussion at ACEP20 focused on the societal impacts of healthcare injustice and actionable ways that clinical leadership can lead the movement toward healthcare equality. For the full discussion, watch the recorded session here.

Panelists included:

  • Maureen Bell, MD; Medical Director, Howard University Hospital
  • Vanessa Calderon, MD; Medical Director, St. Mary’s Medical Center
  • Kenneth Jones, FACHE; President, AMITA Health St. Francis
  • Imamu Tomlinson, MD, MBA; CEO, Vituity
  • Janet Young, MD; Vice President of Emergency Operations, Vituity

Three Key Takeaways From the Conversation.

1. Systemic Change Toward Healthcare Equality Starts in the Hearts of Individuals.

Steps to a brighter healthcare future

The panelists were unanimous. One of the most radical things we can do to effect healthcare justice is to examine our personal biases and commit to action. “You don’t have to be the person creating organizational policy to make a difference,” Dr. Calderon said. “A powerful first step for each of us is to admit that biases exist. Where are our blind spots? How can we be more aware of them when treating patients?”

Our experts further emphasized that providers can provide culturally competent care—whether or not we look like our patients. “Even if we have zero Black physicians at our hospital, we can still have compassion and understanding for every Black patient who walks through our doors,” Dr. Tomlinson said.

There is momentum. I feel it. Now is the time for us to step forward as ambassadors of change. Don’t let this awful year be for nothing.

Janet Young, MD

Panelists also underscored the considerable influence clinicians hold within healthcare organizations. “As physicians, we don’t realize that we have power,” Dr. Bell said. “We feel bad about the injustice we see, but we stay in our lane and focus on clinical matters. And we have to change that mindset. We have to advocate and be a voice for patients.”

2. Less talk, More action From Hospital and Physician Leadership.

When it comes to effecting healthcare justice, diversity training, policies, and speeches are a start. But follow-through and accountability are essential for these initiatives to contribute to a positive shift in cultural and team dynamics.

Panelists agreed that creating inclusive cultures requires courage and integrity. “I would challenge anyone, myself included, to put yourself out there—and maybe even put yourself at risk a little bit—by doing what’s right,” Dr. Tomlinson said.

In addition to leading by example, we must hold our clinical leaders, our provider communities, and ourselves accountable for specific goals. Mr. Jones said, “When we hire people, we must ensure that they resonate with our goals and objectives. At the same time, we have to send the message that behavior and culture matter as much as clinical expertise.”

3. Ending Healthcare Disparities Means Creating More Opportunities for All—Especially Children and Youth.

When it comes to ending health disparities, all of our panelists emphasized the importance of diversifying the provider workforce. To achieve this goal, it’s crucial to provide a hand up through active engagement and mentorship.

“I was the first in my family to go to college and the first to become a doctor,” Dr. Calderon said. “I benefited from all the pipeline programs out there to increase diversity in medicine, so I’m hugely committed to lifting up those who are coming next.”

And the earlier we start to nurture and encourage the talents of our youth, the better. “Diversifying the healthcare workforce is a long game,” said Dr. Tomlinson, who champions community education and enrichment programs as president of the Vituity Cares Foundation. “You have to go all the way down to the elementary level to motivate, inspire, and develop young people.”

The good news is that health systems are well-positioned to impact the lives of youth. “We are often influential as large employers that contribute much to the economic success of our communities,” Mr. Jones said. “So when we come to the table, other stakeholders listen. By engaging with local schools and community organizations, we can help to move the needle on the causes we share.”

Now is the Time to Take Action for Healthcare Justice.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how incredibly interconnected and vulnerable our human community is. “If one person is hurting, we’re all hurting,” Dr. Tomlinson said. “To quote Ibram X. Kendi, ‘There’s no social justice without healthcare justice.’”

And we are all the more vulnerable because we share a finite bucket of healthcare resources. “As I drive 10 miles from my neighborhood, life expectancy drops by five to 10 years because of the lack of access,” Dr. Young said. “It’s not just minorities who lose. Systemic inequity and strain on our resources mean our entire population is worse off.”

However, Dr. Young also saw reasons for hope. “Because of the tragedies of 2020, we’re finally having genuine conversations around social justice,” she said. “There is momentum. I feel it. Now is the time for us to step forward as ambassadors of change. Don’t let this awful year be for nothing.”

Learn more about Vituity’s mission to eliminate healthcare disparities and inequalities.

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