INDIANAPOLIS — On Thursday, three of Central Indiana's biggest health care system announced they're taking steps to address racism in healthcare, calling systemic racism a public health crisis. The leaders of Eskenazi Health, Community Health Network, and Indiana University Health signed a pledge to promote health care equity in all the communities they serve.
This comes after doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers held a White Coats for Black Lives Rally over the summer in solidarity with racial justice protests. Ashley Meagher, MD, MPH with IU Health participated in that rally. She tells WRTV it is past time for this issue to be addressed.
"All of the systemic racism that's been built in the medical system for years, decades really effects our patients on a day to day basis and it effects their lives," Dr. Meagher said. "It is crucial that health systems recognize and deliberately institute anti-racists policies to start breaking away at those decades of disparities."
To see the disparities in healthcare, you only need to look at the communities hardest hit by the pandemic. Indiana State Health Department data shows black people make up a larger portion of Covid-19 deaths in comparison to their percentage of Indiana's population.
Systemic racism plays a role in that because African Americans tend to distrust doctors because of past unethical treatment. The Tuskegee Study is one example. African American men were lied to about getting treatment for syphilis by the federal government. It lasted for 40-Years.
That, along with other issues like a lack of access to medical centers or affordable, healthy foods has led to health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure. Those diseases increase the chances of dying from Covid-19. All of it can be traced back to systemic racism.
Dr. Meagher says all doctors need to make it a priority to address and end racism in healthcare, one patient at a time.
"It's really important that physicians are on the forefront of kind of breaking down some of this and providing healthcare for a patient rather than a whole group of people as monolithic block," Dr. Meagher said.
Joint statement from Community Health Network, Eskenazi Health and Indiana University Health:
Racism is a public health crisis.
As leaders from Community Health Network, Eskenazi Health and Indiana University Health, whose organizations seek to eliminate the systemic racism that disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities, we say without hesitation that we stand united against racism, injustice and inaction.
Racism results in generational trauma and poverty, while unquestionably causing higher rates of illness and death in Black and Brown communities. We have seen — in its rawest form — how the trauma of systemic racism adds to the historic injustices that have and continue to disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities.
Our healthcare systems are committed to providing high quality, compassionate care in the face of health disparities and poor outcomes arising from social and economic inequities.
These social and economic inequities, along with other social determinants of health, such as poverty, inadequate housing, under-resourced educational systems, criminal justice bias, food deserts, joblessness, violence and poor access to healthcare, contribute to health inequities in our Black and Brown communities. They are a recipe for pain, suffering, premature mortality — and civil protest.
As healthcare organizations, we are committed to being part of the solution, both within our organizations and in partnership with local community groups. We are focused on improving access to care and eliminating racial biases that contribute to poor health outcomes.
As such, we commit to:
Improve our workplaces by:
o Enhancing a culture of inclusion that seeks, welcomes and values all people. This means we will address and reduce discrimination among team members, patients and guests;
o Addressing the economic disparities in our community by ensuring our team members have the ability to achieve jobs that pay a livable wage; and,
o Transforming our organizations through an active review of policies, actions and procedures that have inhibited our ability to fully promote a diverse, equitable, inclusive and anti-racist organization with measures of accountability. One of those actions will be to improve the demographic makeup of our leaders to reflect the Indiana communities we serve with particular focus on people of color.
Improve our communities by building meaningful and sustained partnerships to promote healthcare equity and reduce healthcare disparities, impact social determinants of health, and build more inclusive communities by:
o Improving the equity of care for all patients by regularly measuring, monitoring, and improving the care we provide to underserved populations;
o Identifying, researching, understanding and addressing racial disparities in healthcare access and outcomes including primary, specialty and behavioral health;
o Strengthening relationships with other Indiana health systems, as well as state and local municipalities to improve the health of Indiana, especially in areas that disproportionally affect communities of color;
o Working with other community organizations (the Indy Chamber, Central Indiana Corporate Partnerships, United Way) to develop, endorse, and provide support for creative solutions to social determinants of health, especially affordable housing, food security and workforce development;
o Deepening our engagement with Indiana organizations that have a mission and history of advocating for underrepresented minorities;
o Continuing to enhance and deliver on our commitments to minority, women and veteran-owned business suppliers; and,
o In support of the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana, continuing to advocate for investments that achieve enduring improvements in access, quality and health outcomes for our communities.
We believe all people are worthy of our compassionate care, that everyone can be an important contributor to our teams and that true inclusiveness is essential if we are to make Indiana one of the healthiest states.
Our society only truly thrives when everyone has an opportunity to succeed and live a healthy life. We are committed to moving forward together. By harnessing the collective strengths of our organizations, we will help serve our communities as agents of change. We hope you will join us in this commitment.