We can reverse pervasive health inequity, which takes a high toll on families, economy
The burden of health inequity not only brings higher levels of illness, disability and death, but also denies our nation billions of dollars in lost economic activity.
To truly advance health in America, we must improve the quality of care for everybody, in every community.
To tackle health disparities head-on, the American Hospital Association and the National Urban League have formed an alliance. Our groups—a national hospital association and the nation’s largest civil rights organization—have much in common and we are taking concrete steps to increase diversity and inclusion in healthcare leadership and improve the health of the communities we serve. Together, we will cooperate on three areas of focus:
First, the Urban League and AHA will connect hospital and health system CEOs with local Urban League leaders interested in opportunities to serve on governing boards in their communities. The AHA will provide support and education to Urban League leaders who join boards, and will share successful strategies and lessons learned to help communities across the country increase the number of African-American hospital board members and C-suite leaders.
Diverse, engaged hospital and health system boards become trusted linkages to the community and are one key to changing health trends and empowering all individuals to reach their highest potential for health. When hospital boardrooms reflect the patients and communities they serve, the goal of equitable, culturally competent care becomes more attainable. What do we mean by culturally competent? It’s when providers interact with patients from all cultures in an appropriate social, cultural and linguistic way mak- ing it more likely for patients to reach their full potential for health.
Second, the AHA and Urban League also will help hospitals to better integrate community health workers into their care delivery and population health strategies. In partnership with the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, the Urban League has a successful community health worker program that targets African-American adults at risk for obesity, heart disease and other chronic health issues. League-trained community health workers connect individuals to healthcare providers and services as well as other community assets. The program has a strong mental health and wellness component that acknowledges the stress factors of race and poverty in underserved communities.
Many clients of the CHW program are currently or were formerly engaged in other programs of the Urban League affiliate, such as job training and place- ment, housing counseling, financial education, seniors programs, substance abuse prevention and voter registration. By helping participants address a broad range of economic, social and psychosocial issues, the Urban League helps to stabilize and improve the quality of the participants’ lives and incorporates a holistic approach to health.
We’ve found that individuals who work with Urban League community health staffers improve health indicators, have a higher awareness of health issues and are more likely to take ownership of their health, lifestyle and treatment. The AHA and Urban League are using this program to further current hospital community health worker efforts. There’s no reason why these successful programs can’t be replicated across the country.
Lastly, the AHA has joined the League’s Washington-based Urban Solutions Council—a team of dedicated leaders who meet regularly to develop policy recommendations to address the persistent challenges of urban America so our nation is stronger, resilient, and healthier.
America is a diverse country, but we all share a common goal: health and happiness for ourselves and our families. Disparities in healthcare and health outcomes shouldn’t stand in the way. We are excited about what Urban League and the AHA can accomplish together in this new alliance. Let’s tackle health inequity and let’s change it for good.
Rick Pollack, left, is president and CEO of the American Hospital Association and Marc Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.