We can re­verse per­va­sive health in­equity, which takes a high toll on fam­i­lies, econ­omy

Modern Healthcare - - COMMENT - By Rick Pol­lack and Marc Mo­rial In­ter­ested in sub­mit­ting a Guest Ex­pert op-ed? View guide­lines at modernhealth­care.com/op-ed. Send drafts to As­sis­tant Man­ag­ing Ed­i­tor David May at dmay@modernhealth­care.com.

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.

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