Many health organizations have committed to ending disparate care—we must hold them accountable

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After George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent civil unrest, both exacerbated by the pandemic, many health organizations committed to changing from business as usual and addressing the neglect of appropriate health care rendered to Communities of Color.

What I have discovered is that, though well-intentioned, our communities need to ensure that those good intentions become reality.

This past week I attended a medical conference held by the Group on Diversity and Inclusion (GDI) that is intended to help with the professional development of medical school educators, which includes doctors. It is sponsored by an organization that is responsible for the regulation and management of U.S. medical schools called the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). 

The bottom line of such a meeting is to improve racial health disparities that exist in this country at all levels. Those levels include the delivery of health care to our Black and Brown patients. 

It includes the facilitation of clinics and hospitals in our Communities of Color that are accessible. It aspires to have CEOs, managers, and of course doctors, nurses, allied medical personnel, and the host of others who look like their community, to provide the passionate, empathetic, responsible and reliable care we all deserve.

The conference was energized by the multitude of diverse speakers who were there to present their well-thought-out ideas and research in the areas of providing health care to our communities. It ranges from the establishment of science, technology, engineering and math programs at the early education levels to providing pathways to students of color to undergraduate colleges and universities and subsequently to medical schools.

Of course, we discussed ways to pay for school through scholarships, loans, obligatory repayment systems such as the Public Health Service and the military. But most importantly, we discussed the systemic racism that obstructs Black and Brown students from seeking and realizing such a dream.

The conference identified many obstacles, too many to address in this article, but then applied thought, and yes, resources to help address the proverbial elephant in the room, systemic racism.

If you remember, the bottom line of this entire process is to improve the disparate health care that we see throughout the country, including here in the Twin Cities. Many of our healthcare systems are starting to address this head-on. I hope to share how each is doing so and will start with M Health Fairview which is the combination of the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, Fairview Health, and the University of Minnesota Physicians.

To this end, they have devised the HOPE Commission. The acronym HOPE is representing Healing, Opportunity, People, and Equity. It is a multi-year transformational change effort to drive more equitable outcomes and inclusive environments and experiences for patients, employees, and communities.

Initiated in the summer of 2020, the HOPE Commission uses an anti-racist approach. Anti-racism is the active process of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies, practices and attitudes.

The Commission leaders are Taj Mustapha, MD, an assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics; Diane Tran, senior director of community engagement at M Health Fairview; and Christopher Warlick, MD, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Urology. They recognize that healthcare institutions have an obligation to provide excellent and equitable health care to our patients and communities.

Yet, similar to other public institutions like law enforcement, we know our systems sometimes fail to meet this obligation effectively. It has been proven in study after study that the experience of racism has very real health effects, and it affects the quality of health care you receive. 

Whether it is an assumption about a person’s medical condition or bias in the way people are treated in clinics, institutional inequity in the way we view our employees and our patients can lead to poorer health outcomes for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and other marginalized groups.

Ultimately, the success of the Commission will depend on the active involvement of all 34,000 M Health Fairview employees—nurses, housekeeping staff, doctors, food service workers, care coordinators, administrators, and others—in advancing an equitable culture, practices and outcomes.

This is just one example of our health organizations responding to longstanding disparate care. Remember, the aim of all of this is to improve access and the quality of medical care in our communities. The least we can do is to hold them accountable.

David Hamlar MD, DDS is an assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Minnesota. He specializes in craniofacial skull base surgery. He attended Howard University College of Dentistry (DDS) and Ohio State University (MD), and came to Minnesota for his fellowship in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. Besides medicine, he is a retired Minnesota National Guardsman achieving the rank of major general. His passion today is empowering students of color to achieve their dreams of entering the medical professions as well as other STEM-oriented careers.