Take a Stand for Humanity
The global pandemic, and the lack of a national response, has made 2020 a profoundly turbulent year. But for me, one of the most striking realities of this year has been how we’ve had to reckon with the ugly, ever present racism woven deep in the fabric of our nation. The turbulence has pushed those of us in the healthcare industry, who are committed to improving the health and wellbeing of the communities we serve, to reevaluate and, in some cases, realign priorities. As a health system leader serving one of the most diverse regions in this country, I find myself challenging the work our health system is doing by asking how and where we can improve; how we can do more; how we can set expectations that will change the status quo. To develop innovative ways to serve more people with fewer resources while doing a better job of ensuring diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice are ingrained in our strategic framework.
As the new administration takes office, they must do the same; answering the call of those seeking social justice AND aggressively confronting COVID-19, which devastatingly and disproportionately has impacted people of color. According to the CDC, African Americans, although just 13% of the US population, account for 33% of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Latin Americans (18% of the population) account for 23% of COVID-19 confirmed cases. Health inequities like these have always existed, but they have been exacerbated by the pandemic, forcing conversations about disparities and racism to rise to the national stage.
Our newly elected leaders must choose action over complacency, progress over ease, and equity over the inequity. Our communities need our national, state, and local leaders to work together with community activists and healthcare organizations to fight for social justice and health equity.
Healthcare and political leaders must focus on:
- Implementing a national response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, including advancing testing, surveillance, vaccinations, and treatment using scientifically based methodologies;
- Adopting a community-based solution to the injustices and violence perpetrated against people of color with special attention to police brutality against Black men in America; and
- Developing an affordable solution to sustaining hospitals and health systems that are uniquely positioned to deliver accessible, equitable, high quality care in a manner that enables the nation to achieve healthcare equity and eliminates disparities in outcomes based solely on social determinants, such as race, zip code, education and income.
It is critically important that the new leadership looks at health holistically. There is a direct correlation between the health of our people and the health of our economy and our nation’s ability to compete on a global stage. Only 20% of a person’s health outcomes are attributed to medical care, the other 80% is determined by social factors and health behaviors beyond the care setting.
As our new leadership begins exploring policy options to improve the health and well-being of our country, they should ask what are we doing to address the social determinants of health? How are we addressing environmental factors like pollution, mold, and water? What are we doing to ensure our vulnerable community members have adequate housing, healthy foods, and safe neighborhoods? These are all questions I have challenged our health system with, and I challenge other healthcare leaders and politicians to contemplate.
We all must work together to elevate the voices and lives of historically oppressed and marginalized communities. This means challenging racial biases and the institutions like healthcare, education, and policing that enable the maintenance of inequitable practices that disenfranchise communities of color, as well as the poor and the vulnerable of all races.
To achieve progress, we all must stand against indifference, discrimination and violence, and commit to uplifting our communities by improving the health and well-being of all. For the sake of humanity.