Indiana's hospitals are working together to ensure that all patients – regardless of race or ethnicity – receive equal treatment and outcomes. Recently, five hospital systems in Central Indiana announced they will create a central dashboard for patients of different racial backgrounds to report on their health care experience. The goal is to hold providers accountable to patients and eliminate the disparities that exist in treatment for minorities.
“We have developed equity reports that allow us to compare our quality outcomes across demographic groups for each service line and region," said IU Health CEO Dennis Murphy. “We are in the process of standing up a dedicated Health Equity Dashboard which will focus on identifying gaps in access, transitions, outcomes and experiences of care, by race, ethnicity, and payer."
Ascension St. Vincent-Indiana CEO Jonathan Nalli said their care teams are there to respect and listen to every patient who walks through their doors.
“We are unveiling a training on unconscious bias for our workforce," Nalli said. “We also continue to look at our hiring and procurement policies through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion. As importantly, we have incorporated a screening tool in the outpatient setting to ascertain if our patients are struggling with social determinants of health so that we are able to better understand and address their healthcare needs."
The issue of equity in health care is not limited to the treatment of patients. Indiana's hospitals have also stated that they intend to address internal inequity in various areas, such as recruiting, retention, training, and pay of minority individuals. IU Health and Eskenazi Health have both announced that they have raised the minimum starting wage to $18 an hour, a measure that will positively affect nearly 12,000 employees between the two organizations. Franciscan Health and Community Health Network have also instituted pay raises, with plans to follow the lead of the other hospital systems.
Dr. Lisa Harris, CEO of Eskenazi Health, says to treat our community with the care they deserve, we must understand the needs at hand.
“Eskenazi Health understands that we must first learn from our community and then partner with community-based organizations, the faith community, our colleagues in health care, local government, and local businesses to close the gap on health disparities," Dr. Harris said. “Therefore, we have invested in leadership and infrastructure to help us identify those neighbors in need of social care and we have re-invested in the partnerships needed to address these social determinants of health. It will require our entire community working collaboratively in this way to call racism a public health crisis and reduce health disparities."
Eskenazi Health has also announced a $2.2M investment with the goal of recruiting and retaining employees of color, including a program that will partner with historically black colleges and universities. While all these initiatives are certainly steps in the right direction, leaders from the hospitals agree that there is much more to be done. They promised to return in six months to report on the progress that they have made in this area and to discuss future efforts to achieve equity in Hoosier health care.
Discussing health equity is one thing officials from Community Health Network say they are dedicated to improving. Community Health Network CEO Bryan Mills said continued conversations and working together is just one way the health care systems plan to make improvements.
“Community is part of a health equity task team that meets frequently, called together in cooperation with the NAACP and Indianapolis Recorder," Mills said. “It includes data and DEI specialists from the major health care organizations serving the Indianapolis area along with the Indiana Health Information Exchange. Our initial work has been on inequities related to diabetes, and we've quickly expanded the focus to also include mental health, infant mortality, and high blood pressure. We're trying to fully understand the health inequities in these areas so we can collaborate on the most effective strategies to address them. Making progress will take all of us working together, along with many other partners, including religious and social service organizations."
Franciscan Health is another hospital system deeply committed to improving the health of the communities they serve. Dr. Jim Callaghan, President, and CEO of Franciscan Health Indianapolis, Mooresville and Carmel, says activities that assist in reducing barriers for health and wellness, address cultural barriers that challenge access to care, and improve social determinants of health are vital.
“We are working to address health equity by creating culturally relevant navigation services in the Burmese population on the south side of
Indianapolis, programs targeting physical activity and nutrition in efforts to reduce diabetes rates in low-resourced communities, and provision of healthy food in Beech Grove," Dr. Callaghan said. “We have educational programs, written resources, and care practices that are translated into multiple languages and reflect culturally relevant themes to appropriately serve the growing immigrant and refugee populations on the south side."
With a record number of patients seeking care, all system leaders said they are redoubling efforts on preventive care to keep people healthy. Indiana hospitals throughout Indiana are working toward the same goals, and future issues of Harmony will highlight some of those efforts.