We Are Obligated to Do Better
Over the past several weeks, we have all been reminded about the inequities that exist within our society via shocking and inexcusable actions. Sadly, these are just the latest in a series of events that have spanned generations in the United States and globally. Even those of us who have believed we have been strong champions for equity have been further “awoken” to the fact we need to do more. In fact, as a white male, I am obligated to do more to help shape a future where inequity no longer exists.
As I have reflected the past weeks on how I can be a more active leader of this change, I have found myself focusing on the two most important roles in my life: as a father and healthcare leader.
In healthcare, leaders have been reminded that the work we do around addressing health inequities and disparities in care has not been enough. While we work hard to create healthy communities for all, recent activities have provided a painful reality that racial inequity and biases continue to exist. These undermine our efforts to ensure all people, regardless of their race or ethnicity, are able to access and receive the care they need. Further illustrating the contrasts in how black and white Americans receive care, David Williams, in his 2019 Ted Talk, stated that “every 7 minutes, a black person dies prematurely in the US [and] that is over 200 black people die every single day who would not die if the lives of blacks and whites were equal.” His wonderful talk can be found here and it’s an important addition to our global discussion.
I’ve been fortunate to be a key leader involved with and advancing our health equity work at several healthcare systems. At Chicago’s Sinai Health System, I led our hospital’s participation in RWJ’s Expecting Success: Excellence in Cardiac Care program, a 10-hospital national collaborative to address disparities in care for African American and Latino patient populations. Our ability to collaborate with national leaders and create local initiatives using race, ethnicity and language data, demonstrated the impact you can have in inpatient and outpatient settings. As Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer at Navicent Health, I helped align and elevate our strategic focus in creating healthy communities, where addressing disparities in care throughout our region was an essential goal to drive health equity. Unique to this experience, we leveraged innovative solutions and digital tools to help support and resolve healthcare disparities for African Americans and other people of color with chronic conditions. What I learned from both of these experiences is that health equity can be achieved, but it’s hard work from which we should never shy away. For those of us in healthcare, this is our time to double down on this work and further our resolve to ensure health inequities no longer lead to poor outcomes for people of color.
As a father of two children, I have found the past several weeks particularly challenging. We have chosen to raise our children in a diverse community, including the very street we live on. Our kids have grown up exposed to various cultures, lifestyles and experiences, which contribute to how they see, and interact with, the world around them. Yet, I realize I haven’t done enough. I haven’t openly discussed racism and the implicit racial bias that may exist internally with people. I realize I haven’t called out this topic explicitly and asked them what they would do if they saw racism in action. While they have a very strong sense of “right and wrong” and injustice, I haven’t directly tied it to racist actions that exist within our society and that have blanketed our televisions in recent weeks. In short, I haven’t gone far enough as a parent.
Ibram X Kendi, the executive director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University in Washington D.C., says the goal is to raise children who are antiracist. He further states that as parents, we “should raise children who can express notions of racial equality, who can see racial disparities as a problem, and who can do their own small part to challenge this big problem of racism.”
As such, I am having these conversations with my kids to help them own their actions and be leaders for change. I have role-played with them and challenged them to express what they would do in situations where someone is being racially profiled, or mistreated because of the color of their skin. And, I’ve helped them to understand the history of racism in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Most of all, I have listened to them as they express confusion and ask unlimited questions that both challenge me to be a better father, but also further seek answers to difficult questions. While there have been many resources that help with these conversations, I’ve found one published by National Geographic to be exceptionally helpful with framing the conversation and helping to provide further support.
Through this reflection, I have also looked to leaders who demonstrate the resolve and action needed to galvanize others to become informed, active advocates for change. Atrium Health’s President & CEO Gene Woods is one of these leaders. In a letter he wrote to his 75,000+ teammates, he channeled a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and reminded everyone that “whatever affects one of us, affects us all.” So very true. I look at our current situation and how we are addressing racism and recognize I have to do more. As a human being, I must drive further change and never look away when I see racism occurring. As a healthcare leader, I must continue to address racial inequities and resolve disparities in care to ensure a true future of healthcare equity for all. As a father, I must encourage difficult questions and frame answers that allow them to be leaders of a generation that will one day look back over their shoulders and remember a time long past where racism and inequity once existed, but no longer does. That is my charge. I am now an active advocate for change who will encourage others to join me in ending racism in all forms.