We start at the top. A survey by the Institute for Diversity in Health Management found that most healthcare boards and leadership teams do not reflect the demographics they serve, and only 18% were collecting data to identify disparities within their facilities. We simply must do better. Our teams should be representative of our communities, and we must understand the root causes behind why fellow citizens receive inferior care. As W. Edwards Deming reminded us, what you don't measure you can't improve.
Yes, this is about social justice. Recall this quote by Martin Luther King Jr.: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” But in addition to saving lives, it's about saving resources. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that racial health disparities cost the U.S. $229 billion from 2003 to 2006. And isn't improving outcomes and reducing costs in underserved communities a strategic imperative as we strive to improve population health?
In 24 months at Christus Health, we have increased the diversity of our top leaders from 13% to 20%, doubled minority representation on our board to 20% and statistically validated that our mortality outcomes were similar across racial/ethnic lines. But we have just begun.
As the new chairman of American Hospital Association's Equity of Care Committee, I urge you to support the National Call to Action to Eliminate Health Care Disparities (equityofcare.org/call). The goals are simple and clear: Increase the collection and use of race, ethnicity and language preference data; increase cultural competency training; and increase diversity in leadership and governance.
Many lives depend on all of us taking these important steps. We look forward to walking with you on this rewarding journey that will make a difference for generations to come.
Eugene Woods is executive vice president and chief operating officer at Christus Health and a member of the American Hospital Association board of trustees.