‘Racism is a public health crisis’ town hall

The town hall conversation was hosted by the Indianapolis Recorder and the Greater Indianapolis NAACP Unit #3053

Black patients & white coats: ‘Racism is a public health crisis’ town hall
Racism is a Public Health Crisis town hall conversation asked Indiana healthcare system leaders how they're tackling racism. (Photo/Jade Jackson)

Four hospitals spoke about how they are tackling the issue of racism within their healthcare systems. It is a united initiative to foster inclusivity and eliminate racial disparities in medical care.

CEOs and human resource officers for Community Health Network, Eskenazi Health, Franciscan Health and IU Health said they recognize the urgent need for change. 

Dr. Kelly C. McCants, a cardiologist specializing in heart transplants in Louisville, KY, moderated the forum discussion at Martin University. 

“If you are in this room, you recognize that racism is a public health crisis, or you wouldn’t have a passion to work together to fix it. The CEOs and the human resource officers have the responsibility and ability to set the stage for how an organization moves,” said McCants. 
Major points of topic concerned patient trust, empathy from providers and diversifying leadership. 

Watch the full town hall here.

Community Health Network

​Bryan Mills, CEO, said the methods they use for understanding what is happening to African American patients in Community hospitals comes from data they collect on patient experiences. 

“We have patient advocates. We’ve added people to our organizations for health equity to make sure that people can have a conversation with people who look like them. We’ve had all kinds of education and training with our workforce and providers,” said Mills. 

“Most importantly, we come together to look at our results and see what we can improve on. Have we solved this? No. Are we committed to get better every day? Yes, but we must do that by sharing. When we share that with our peers, we can only get better.”

Three years ago, he said their board of directors felt that they had to resemble the patients they serve. They created the pathway for new leadership by only giving board members a one-year term. 

Michelle Mahaffey, executive VP and chief human resource officer for Community Health Network, said the hospital also sponsored the Black Men in White Coats Youth Summit in Indianapolis last year. 

Eskenazi Health

​Lisa Harris, CEO, said although they rely on data to collect the experience of African Americans, not all the issues related to racism can be measured. 

Lisa Harris, CEO, asserts that while they rely on data to collect the experience of African Americans, not all the issues related to racism can be measured.

“I think also that we have to be concerned that some of the measures that we use can be biased. The algorithms are not populated with data about healthcare that represents the full picture of the diversity within our populations,” said Harris.

She said if they doubled the number of Black medical school graduates year after year, it would still take close to 66 years to fill the equity gap in healthcare.

With a growing diverse state population, obtaining those diverse providers is important. 

18% of Eskenazi Health’s leadership team is Black. 

12% of their providers are Black. 

20% of their nurses are Black, compared to 6% nationally. 

They have created a leadership fellowship focused on identifying and developing promising leaders that they can promote from within. 

Two years ago, they started a paid internship program for HBCU students. In 2021, they had two students. In 2022, they had twelve students; this year there are sixteen students.

The internships are in students’ respective fields of study, but they also focus on professional development and connecting them to mentors with Black providers. 

“We don’t rest on our data because it’s not just about having diversity. It’s also making sure that those individuals feel included and are free to share their thoughts,” said Chris Hicks, chief human resource officer at Eskenazi Hospital.

Franciscan Health

Lori Price is new to her role as CEO; however, she said in her experience there has not been this type of collaboration focused on African American communities amongst different healthcare networks. 

“Beyond the data, it’s the conversations about unconscious bias. We don’t know what we don’t know sometimes. We must remember that,” said Price.

12% of Franciscan Health’s administrative leaders are Black.

Steven Kile, administrative director of human resources for Franciscan Health, said they work with students before they get ready to go to college. 

IU Health

Dennis Murphy, CEO, said that data along with human connection is imperative to understanding the Black healthcare experience. They utilize patient advocates. 

“We also use a tool that was put out by the CDC that measures social vulnerability. We tell the advocates to start with those people first. They’re the ones in most need and probably don’t proactively raise their hands to say they need help,” said Murphy. 

“There is also trauma-informed care. Over 30 years I didn’t know what that was. I think, for a lot of people in adult medicine, you must understand how to ask those questions; probe to understand more than just their diagnosis.” 

They started a doula program with Riley Children’s Health for BIPOC communities. They follow expecting mothers from 28 weeks to a year, knowing that there are often different outcomes for Black mothers and babies.

IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the country. 

Murphy said 50% of the state’s physicians train with the school at some point. They do better than the national average on diversity for medical schools. 

“Over time, when they go into their residency or fellowships, we lose people. The idea is how to find people in medical and keep them here. We have to build programs that tell people that we want them and need them here. I don’t think they’ve always gotten that message,” said Murphy. 

​There will be another town hall in November

Whether that is offering to pay off their medical school loans or building their academic skillset along with their clinical skills. 
Their iDream (Incentivizing Recruitment for Equity in Academic Medicine) program aims to enhance representational diversity among the physician workforces. 

They want to better reflect the diversity of the populations they teach and serve by identifying and retaining physicians from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine.

Dr. Adrienne Sims, senior VP and chief human resource officer at IU Health, said they focus on local and regional connections with high schools to start the pathway to healthcare early. 

“We are becoming more increasingly intentional about talent pipeline strategies. We’re making sure that we are exposing children in our community to healthcare and the benefits of healthcare,” said Sims.

She said they are working on strengthening their pipeline because there are not enough African Americans in leadership. 

Contact staff writer Jade Jackson at 317-607-5792 or by email JadeJ@IndyRecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @IAMJADEJACKSON