Over the last several months, hospitals and healthcare systems have grappled with a public health crisis that predates COVID-19 by centuries: racism.
Recent civil injustices and the disparate impact of the pandemic have spurred industry leaders across the country, myself included, to speak out. We have decried racism and systemic disparities as the societal plagues they are, resulting in deeply harmful and inequitable health outcomes.
As the leader of a healthcare system that treats more than 3 million patients annually, my charge is to turn statements into action. It is not enough to be “not racist.” Health organizations have a solemn duty to heal and facilitate health; therefore, we must actively eradicate racism from our policies and practices.
At RWJBarnabas Health, our team of health strategists, physicians and executive leaders have created a road map to tangibly build equity and address systemic racism both internally and throughout the communities we serve. Through our recently launched effort Ending Racism, Together, we are incorporating our anti-racist mission into every aspect of our operational, clinical and social strategy.
Translating words into work is difficult. We are developing a strategic framework based on increased knowledge and awareness; systems and process change; and organizational alignment that ensures every team member plays a role in contributing to the work of dismantling racism. Here’s where we’ve begun:
Ensure that all patients are afforded high-quality and equitable care
Patient care is our foundation, and it’s the first place we must look to eliminate healthcare disparities. A comprehensive approach must include all phases of the clinical continuum, from how we train physicians to resources available in the examination room.
As part of Ending Racism, Together, we are applying an equity lens to improve every element of care: Increasing services and materials available to non-English speakers in their preferred language; working to ensure parity in emergency department wait times; and creating training programs that educate clinicians on racism and equity. We have also integrated a universal social determinants of health screening assessment into routine clinical care, allowing physicians to identify social factors contributing to their patients’ health issues and streamline connection to resources when needed.
Create an anti-racist environment that supports the entire workforce
With more than 44,000 people employed, our health system is a sizable community. The culture within that community, the culture we foster among and for our workforce, is crucial. Key to our Ending Racism, Together, mission is creating an actively anti-racist environment that affords all employees professional development opportunities, potential for growth and avenues to have their voices heard without fear of retribution.
Our workforce needs to reflect the people we serve, in no small part because we know that having a diverse employee base directly benefits our patients. As just one example, studies have shown that Black babies have better health outcomes when treated by Black doctors.
As a healthcare provider and major New Jersey employer, we have a responsibility to support future leaders from all backgrounds and build equitable career pipelines. This includes recruiting diverse talent and ensuring representation on all leadership levels.
Leverage economic assets to build community health and eliminate disparities
We know that health is informed by factors outside the hospital walls: access to healthy food, safe housing and job security, to name a few. Addressing the social determinants requires financial investment in our communities, especially low-income ZIP codes.
We are dedicated to buy, hire and invest locally to stimulate our economies and create sustainable health, social and economic outcomes for our patients and neighbors. We’re contracting with local businesses, working with government and community-based partners to deliver seamless, person-centered care, investing in affordable housing and creating job opportunities for those in our own backyard.
Ending racism is a journey and this is just a starting point. But this is a journey all healthcare providers must take. We’re committed to making it a reality.