Today is Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day. For those who may not know the history of this date, it is a holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in our country. Juneteenth2While the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln in January of 1863, the news did not reach thousands of people who were still enslaved in Texas until June 19,1865 when Union General Gordon Granger read the Emancipation Proclamation at a public gathering in Galveston. It has been a day of celebration in African-American communities ever since.

Because of the recent national focus on systemic racism that has gone unaddressed for far too long, I felt that today is an appropriate day to give our community an update on what UMass Memorial Health Care is doing as a system to address racial disparities in health care and beyond.

Health Equity: Let’s start with the work we are doing to address disparities in health care. We have convened a group to focus on health inequities as it relates to our 10 post-pandemic strategic priorities. This group, led by Kate Eshghi, Senior Vice President, General Counsel; Tamara Lundi, Interim President, Community Healthlink; and Cheryl Lapriore, Chief of Staff, Chief Marketing Officer, and President, UMMHC Ventures, will focus on better understanding and addressing the root causes and impact of racial and other disparities in health care and developing a short-term (related to COVID-19) and long-term strategy to address these issues for our system. Among the short-term issues this group intends to tackle are things like:

  • creating mitigation strategies to address identified disparities, including supporting expanded outreach, education and testing to prevent further spread of COVID-19 in disproportionately impacted populations; and
  • integrating an explicit racial equity focus in the UMass Memorial Anchor Mission investment, employment and purchasing work to directly address the impact of the pandemic and associated economic crisis on communities of color.

And long-term issues include:

  • developing improved data collection, reporting and analysis to better identify and understand existing health disparities and adding population-based demographic data reporting to our quality, safety, access and experience standard work;
  • addressing access barriers and disparities in the delivery and experience of care within UMass Memorial;
  • coordinating with and supporting the work of the City of Worcester Equity Task Force; and
  • laying the groundwork for a long-term health equity strategy for UMass Memorial.

This group will be working in coordination with the Anchor Mission Steering Committee on many of these issues.. We will continue to update the community on this important work.

Race Relations in our Region and in our System: Tackling racism is a tall order, but we as a society have to start somewhere. After the George Floyd murder and the ensuing protests around the country, we – the system senior leadership team – have been hearing from some of our caregivers that they have a desire to have a dialogue about how we as a health care community and as an employer can address racism on multiple levels – how we handle inappropriate, racist behavior from patients, how we handle this behavior with our own colleagues, and how can we address racism in our communities.

As someone who sees challenges through the lens of process improvement, I personally want to better understand these issues from those who have first-hand experience. So, I’m working with members of the Health Equity Strategy group to conduct some listening sessions with members of the Employee Resource Groups who are focused on diversity, members of the Health Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Council (HEDIC) and any other groups of caregivers who want to have these kinds of conversations. My goal is to listen, learn and help strategize what we can do together to address these issues.

Lastly, I asked our caregivers for ideas on how to address racial inequities. I’m pleased to report that I have received about 30 ideas so far and have passed them on to our Health Equity Strategy group to review and consider as part of their strategic priority work.

I recognize that there is more work to be done within UMass Memorial to understand and address deep-rooted health care disparities in our service area and to improve the diversity and inclusivity of our own workforce. I hope I can count on all of our caregivers, as well as members of our community, to join me in this journey, so we can continue the conversation and solve these issues together.

(Please follow me on Twitter @EricDicksonCEO)


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