Over the past few weeks, racial inequity in America was laid bare by the disproportionate effects of the pandemic and the deaths of black men and women at the hands of police officers. The historic protests taking place across the globe have sparked conversations around real change.
As community anchors, healthcare organizations can play a pivotal role in ending systemic racism by advocating for and advancing programs that directly address poverty, increase diversity among clinical and executive ranks, and keep people in marginalized communities alive. Last week, Modern Healthcare gathered four industry leaders to discuss the state of affairs and to imagine a path forward.
Looking to leadership for change
Dowling: The staff wants to know our commitment to the cause. They want to know that this is not something that we’ll do just for the next month. If this doesn’t get fixed, we’re all to blame. This is our responsibility.
Woods: One employee said that what he didn’t want us to be is like the other three police officers that watched (George Floyd die), otherwise we’d be complicit in what’s going on.
Harris: Numbers are important. We need the numbers, but can’t stop there. It’s about inclusion and making sure that people at decisionmaking tables are diverse.
Charting a path forward
Harris: We’ve written to Congress about the need to make sure that there are resources and support for all of us examining our own implicit biases, and we need to make sure that occurs when training physicians.
Markovich: We need to redefine what it means to be prosperous for a community and for individuals to prosper, we have to work harder and make sure that happens. We can’t stand on the sideline anymore. We just can’t do it. If we stand on the sideline, we’re essentially siding with the oppressors.
Dowling: We should be investing more in community policing. And those of us who are union supporters have to chastise the union to have them help us make the changes that need to be made in those communities. Otherwise, quite frankly, we’re fooling ourselves. It’s not just the other side that sometimes is the problem.
Woods: If ever not-for-profit health systems are going to collaborate with other not-for-profit health systems—even though they’re competitors—now’s the time.
We have a CEO group here in Charlotte chaired by Brian Moynihan, the CEO of Bank of America, and we’re looking at the business community collaborating, not waiting for the government and we’re driving the investments in pre-K education. We’re investing in vulnerable schools so that they can get to us as employees.
Doubling down on diversity and inclusion
Harris: I and other professionals have not been afraid to raise these issues, but I would be less than candid if I didn’t say that we were strategic. We didn’t raise them in certain circumstances and we were very thoughtful.
I’ve often been the only African American in the room, definitely the only African American woman. I think we’ve reached a tipping point where African American professionals who do have some privilege, we are no longer editing. We are raising these issues, front and center.
Markovich: If you’re not looking at data about what your associates think about you, what your African American associates think about you, what your African American patients think about you, how many leaders you have, what’s your minority spend in your supply chain—if you’re not willing to put those things on the table, it’s really hard to make progress.
Prioritizing the dual pandemics
Woods: There’s going to be a vaccine for COVID. There’s not a vaccine for racism. The vaccine for racism is looking in their own hearts, looking at their own behavior, talking to their neighbors. And what are we willing to stand for in this moment as Americans? So what keeps me up is will this lead to real change?
Dowling: I am an immigrant and I often sit there and think … is America really going backwards? We have to turn that around as leaders in our communities and use whatever kind of influence we might have.