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Central Indiana hospitals pledge to fight racism as ‘public health crisis’

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Three of Central Indiana’s largest health systems want people to know racism is a preventable public health crisis.  

In a joint statement, the presidents and chief executive officers of Community Health Network, Eskenazi Health and Indiana University Health said they want to go on record to pledge to do more to end health disparities and inequity in minority communities, calling systemic racism a public health crisis. 

“Most of health is determined by things that have nothing to do with what we do in health care,” Eskenazi Health CEO Dr. Lisa Harris said. “It’s about opportunities, food, access to good nutrition to safe places to exercise.” 

The leaders said social and economic inequities, including social impediments of health, such as poverty, inadequate housing, criminal justice bias, food deserts, joblessness and violence, contribute to health inequities in Hoosier Black and Latino communities. 

“It’s not just our job to take care of people when they’re sick, but that it’s really our job to help them stay well,” said Dennis Murphy, president and CEO of IU Health. 

He said the work of inching toward equity is not new. This year, for example, he says IU Health raised the minimum wage for workers and is aiming to implement a living wage of at least $15 an hour in the future.  

“If any of us as leaders aren’t fulfilling these obligations, we’re personally accountable,” he said. “If I’m not pushing this agenda, I’m probably not the right person for this job.”  

When asked by the Indianapolis Recorder and Side Effects whether their leadership boards include diversity that reflects the community, each organization’s leader said yes, but there should be more Black, Latino and indigenous people of color added to the ranks.  

Murphy says the hospital system’s governing board will be presented with each benchmark and be responsible for checking in with leadership about them.  

“How do we better know the person that’s in front of us,” Community Health Network president and CEO Bryan Mills said of patients. “How do we better know their circumstances.”  

The health systems, which have worked closely together to address the COVID-19 pandemic, have committed to improving workplaces by:  

• 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; 

• Addressing the economic disparities in our community by ensuring our team members have the ability to achieve jobs that pay a livable wage; and, 

• 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 a 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: 

  • Improving the equity of care for all patients by regularly measuring, monitoring, and improving the care we provide to underserved populations; 
  • Identifying, researching, understanding and addressing racial disparities in healthcare access and outcomes including primary, specialty and behavioral health;
  • 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;
  • Working with other community organizations (the Indy Chamber, Central Indiana Corporate Partnerships and United Way) to develop, endorse, and provide support for creative solutions to social determinants of health, especially affordable housing, food security and workforce development;
  • Deepening our engagement with Indiana organizations that have a mission and history of advocating for underrepresented minorities;
  • Continuing to enhance and deliver on our commitments to minority, women and veteran-owned business suppliers; and,
  • 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.

The statement has been posted on each health system’s website.

This story was reported as part of a partnership between WFYI, Side Effects Public Media and the Indianapolis Recorder. Contact Hilary Powell at hpowell@wfyi.org.

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