Addressing Racial Disparities and Acknowledging September 11th

It seems that on a daily basis, we’re seeing more and more evidence of the racial tensions in our country on the news. While the daily news may be discouraging, I find it also motivating to take action when it comes to finding solutions to racial disparities, particularly in our world of health care. I wish I could say that every patient gets the same high-quality treatment at our country’s health care institutions, including UMass Memorial Health Care, regardless of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, or their gender. But patient data shows that isn’t true. Every health care organization in the country faces the same issue. And while our data shows we fare better than many, that simply isn’t good enough. I’m proud of the work we are doing in this area, but we still have a long way to go. Here is an update on our progress.

Community COVID-19 Testing and Education: When Gov. Baker first asked us to conduct community testing after the Black Lives Matter rallies back in June, we quickly set up a testing site at the Medical Center’s University Campus. While we had a successful turnout, we discovered we weren’t reaching the right population when we reviewed the zip codes of those who were tested. When Gov. Baker came back a few weeks later and asked us to be a part of the “Stop the Spread” testing campaign, we took a closer look at the situation through the perspective of health equity – and asked how we could better reach underserved populations. Marlborough Hospital took the lead in this by standing up a stationary testing site on campus July 10 and has conducted 10,327 tests with a positivity rate of 1.63%. To reach underserved neighborhoods in the Worcester area, we set-up a series of one-day “pop-up” testing sites to reach more people. So far, we have conducted 4,914 of these tests since July 29 with a positivity rate of 1.95%. By far, we are conducting more community testing than any other health care organization in the state. I hope you are as proud of this work as I am.

Virtual Listening Sessions: I just completed the fourth listening session this week out of the ten sessions that I have scheduled to engage with our employees who are members of the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and system entity diversity and inclusion committees to have a dialogue about racial disparities. So far, I’ve met with the following groups:

  • African-American ERG
  • Asian ERG
  • Language of Health Care ERG
  • Community Healthlink’s Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Taskforce (focused on patient diversity) and Diversity and Inclusion Committee (focused on caregiver diversity)

These sessions have been enlightening as we all learn together about the issues we face as an organization and brainstorm ideas to make UMass Memorial a more inclusive and equitable place for patients, families, visitors, and caregivers. One thing that I ask each of these groups as we conclude our meeting is to keep the conversation going. Some may find this topic uncomfortable. Believe me, as a white male, I found it very difficult in the beginning to talk about race-related issues. But we can’t stand silent while racism and racial disparities in our country and in our communities persist. Meaningful action can only come from confronting the problem. I’m encouraged that we’ll have some substantial action steps we can take after these sessions.

Health Equity Forum: In addition to engaging with our caregivers on the topic of racial disparities and injustice, I strongly believe we need to have these kinds of conversations with the communities we serve and live in. How will we know if we’re improving in this area if we don’t hear from those we’re taking care of and interacting with? To start this conversation with our communities, I’ll be hosting a virtual Health Equity Forum in the fall with a panel of special guests from the community to discuss how we collectively can address the race-related issues we see right here in our region. More details about this forum will be coming soon.

Standing in Solidarity with the LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex) Community: While many of our health equity conversations have focused on race and ethnicity, we also need to pay attention to equity and inclusion based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the LGBTQI community hasn’t been able to come together to celebrate Pride as they usually do during the summer months. In Worcester, for example, the Worcester Pride Festival – which has been celebrated for more than 40 years – would have taken place this past week. While we couldn’t come together as a community because of COVID, the Pride flag was raised at Worcester City Hall this past Tuesday as an important symbolic reminder that everyone is welcome in the city. UMass Memorial joins the City of Worcester in wishing everyone a Happy Pride Week! Just as the city is open and welcoming to people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and expressions, all UMass Memorial locations should do the same for our patients, families, visitors, and caregivers. We’re committed to working with the LGBTQI community to make sure that everyone experiences UMass Memorial as a safe and welcoming place to receive care and to give care.

Acknowledging September 11: I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that today is a day to honor and remember the 2,977 people who died on September 11, 2001, during the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania. That tragic day means different things to different people. While we remember this event and those whose lives were lost, we also must acknowledge that many of our fellow Americans who are Muslim or from the Middle East (or even just thought to be) experienced appalling acts of discrimination in the aftermath of the attacks and many still do today. Unfortunately, September 11 is a painful reminder that global divisiveness and lack of inclusion can lead to horrific violence and heartbreaking loss of life.

Today, I hope that we can take a pause to reflect on what this day might look like in the future if we lived in a world where all people were valued and respected equally, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or gender. I know that may seem like an impossible dream, but let’s work together to make UMass Memorial such a place.

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