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Committed to Confronting Racism: Catholic Healthcare Systems Join the Cause

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   February 04, 2021

The Catholic Health Association of the United States along with 23 Catholic provider organizations have signed a pledge to take steps to "achieve health equity."

In a push to address racism in healthcare, the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA) along with nearly two dozen Catholic hospitals and health systems announced Thursday afternoon that they have signed a pledge to confront systemic racism and achieve health equity.

The Confronting Racism by Achieving Health Equity pledge consists of four "focus areas:"

  • Committing to equity during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Enacting change across health systems through hiring practices and ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion among the workforce
  • Advocating for "improved health outcomes" in diverse and minority communities
  • Strengthening trust with minority communities

According to the press release, the CHA board of trustees developed the pledge and asked CHA members to “join in solidarity to promote the common good and seek justice by being actively anti-racist and accountable in effecting positive change in the communities we serve."

Related: Racial Disparities Found in Early COVID-19 Pandemic Mortality Data

Among the 23 healthcare organizations who have already signed the pledge are CommonSpirit Health, Ascension, and CHRISTUS Health.

CommonSpirit CEO Lloyd H. Dean, CHRISTUS Health President and CEO Ernie Sadau, and Ascension Senior Vice President and Chief Community Impact Officer Dr. Tamarah Duperval-Brownlee joined CHA president and CEO Sr. Mary Haddad Thursday afternoon for a press briefing to discuss the initiative.

The healthcare leaders detailed what the announcement will mean for minority communities across the country and outlined the steps their respective organizations have taken to fight against racism and help promote health equity.

"Each of the 23 organizations that have signed the pledge confronting racism by achieving health equity are committed to working collectively to find solutions for this public health crisis,” Haddad said during the briefing. “We are called and committed to addressing the systemic causes of health disparities among underserved and vulnerable populations."

Making measurable, demonstratable systematic changes

The pledge announcement came less than two months after CommonSpirit unveiled a 10-year, $100 million partnership with Morehouse School, a historically Black medical school, to support the training of Black doctors.

"All together we believe that everyone has the right to be healthy and that systemic racism is a threat to that. That, in and of itself, impacts our ability to improve the health of the communities that we serve," Dean said during the briefing.

He added: "Shame on us if we do not seize this moment, as a nation, and as a society, to make measurable, demonstrable and systemic changes. Many of the past efforts to address health equity at failed because they have been episodic. This is why we are all coming together as leaders in Catholic healthcare to pledge to address changes in a systemic way."

Dean mentioned that these changes include COVID-19 tests being made accessible and distributed equitably, as well as prioritizing vaccination for individuals and families at risk, including “elderly populations, communities of color, and certainly Native American, and other indigenous communities."

Related: CommonSpirit, Morehouse Partnership Trains Black Doctors

Change is possible

"Catholic healthcare providers are called to lead by example to take an active role in health equity both inside and outside our healthcare ministries," Sadau, CEO of CHRISTUS, said during the briefing.

CHRISTUS has focused on diversity in its boardroom and workforce, according to Sadau, noting that the health system's board of directors is now made up 45% ethnic minorities and 40% women.

"How we hire how we support, and how we train our associates is critical to our success. This year, we're even more focused on diversity and hiring. One of the measures on our balanced scorecard benchmarks is our work to mentor diverse associates who could be candidates for director and above positions," Sadau said.

"We have evidence that our work is changing things for our associates, for our patients, for our communities that we serve," he added. "We are proof that change is possible. Today, I invite others to join us on this journey and in our fierce commitment to racial justice, and health equity."

Advancing equitable care

"We're really honored to join in this milestone moment to renew our commitment to prioritize equity condemn all forms of racism, discrimination, and systemic injustice, and also to continue the work of fostering a trust among the patients, and communities that were blessed to serve," Duperval-Brownlee, the Ascension executive, said during the briefing.

According to Duperval-Brownlee, Ascension has actively taken a role in curbing health disparities by looking to remove socioeconomic barriers and ensure representation of the community in its healthcare team.

Additionally, she added that Ascension is focused on investing in “sustainable structures and resources” that lead to the advancement of care delivery in a way that is equitable and doesn’t compound existing disparities.

"If we are, and this is a collective 'we,' are at all serious about caring for all, especially those who are made vulnerable and marginalized, we need to continue to challenge ourselves, to be honest about where we are in the journey, and know that it's only on a platform of trust, honesty, transparency, that we can truly hear the people we serve and better serve them," Duperval-Brownlee said.

Related: Henry Ford Health System and MSU Announce 30-year Partnership

“All together we believe that everyone has the right to be healthy and that systemic racism is a threat to that. That, in and of itself, impacts our ability to improve the health of the communities that we serve.”

Melanie Blackman is the strategy editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

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