Put Equity at the Heart of Care

Health care is a fundamental right — a civil right and a human right. Statistically, however, underserved patient populations, often minority groups, receive the worst care nationwide.

While daily work at hospitals and health systems is driven by clinicians, staff and executives committed to ensuring that patients receive quality health care, too few of us recognize that equity is central to providing that care. As hospital and health system leaders, we must act forcefully and immediately to address gaps that result in health disparities.

At NYC Health + Hospitals, we serve one of the most diverse patient populations in the United States. The diversity of our workforce matches that of our patient base. We are proud to say, “We look like our patients, and they look like us.” Our deep cultural affinity with and knowledge of New York’s incredibly diverse communities enable us to deliver better, more appropriate and more effective care. We are committed to ensuring that everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, receives quality care and a positive patient experience.

Among the tools we rely on to achieve equity is a comprehensive translation and interpretation service that offers more than 180 languages and dialects. We understand that quality health care for all New Yorkers depends on our ability to communicate knowledgeably and fluently with all our patients. Their personal stories and experiences should inform and guide our care and treatment decisions.

As an American Hospital Association board member and chair of its Equity of Care Committee, I am committed to ensuring that hospitals and health systems nationwide understand the importance of equity in health care, both as a business imperative and a critical means of improving quality.

That is why I am taking this opportunity to urge you to join nearly 1,000 hospitals by taking the #123forEquityPledge to Act, a nationwide effort over the next year to take concrete actions to reduce specific quality measures that stratify by race, ethnicity or language preference or other sociodemographic variables. By taking the pledge, you become part of a cadre of health care organizations and leaders working together to eliminate health care disparities. Your commitment signifies to your organization that providing equitable care is a priority.

The pledge’s objectives are basic but powerful, serving as building blocks to help transform the health care field. The pledge complements efforts related to quality improvement by focusing on data-identified disparities of care and stressing targeted education for clinicians and staff on providing quality care to all patients. In addition, the pledge encourages diversity at all levels of the organization. With a diverse staff, your organization develops a voice from the community you serve through representation of its members and an intuitive understanding of their needs.

Health care is a human right that demands our support. So, please, join me in taking the #123forEquity pledge and support our efforts to eliminate health care disparities. Let’s build on the critical work our organizations are already doing and deliver high-quality health care to all.

For more information about the #123forEquityPledge to Act, visit www.equityofcare.org/pledge/index.shtml.

Ram Raju, M.D., MBA, FACS, FACHE, is president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, formerly the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp. He is a member of the American Hospital Association board and chair of the AHA’s Equity of Care Committee.