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HHC Center for Equity sets a bold agenda for health and healing

November 01, 2023

Almost 200 colleagues and community advocates gathered Tuesday (Oct. 31, 2023) for the launch of Hartford HealthCare’s Center for Equity. The event – part celebration, part symposium – marked the culmination of a building process that started four years ago and the start of a new era at HHC, guided by our bold equity commitment and an executive-level department dedicated to making its words a reality. Last month, HHC’s Board of Directors broadened our mission statement. It’s simple and direct: “To improve the health and healing of all.” Underpinning this statement is a new equity commitment:

“We commit to specific actions that measurably improve access, intentionally eliminate barriers and create opportunity for all.”
The statement was drafted following a series of workshops during which scores of HHC colleagues from all levels of the organization described the barriers they have experienced or witnessed and their vision for a more fair and equitable healthcare system. “At Hartford HealthCare, we are focused not just on being the best, we want to be the best at getting better. And that’s what today is about,’’ said HHC President and CEO Jeff Flaks, who welcomed participants.

Setting the stage

Elisabeth E.N. Michel, HHC’s manager for equity transformation, set the stage by defining health equity and describing the deeds necessary to achieve it. “Inclusion,” she said, “is about everyone being able to contribute – everyone has a voice.” Opportunity means patients are able to get the best care when they need it and colleagues can grow to achieve their full potential. “Inequities are avoidable and unjust. There is something we can do,’’ she said. “Start somewhere.”

Addressing pregnancy outcomes

Inequities are perhaps no more stark than in maternal health. Black people are almost 3 times more likely than their white counterparts to die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. Hartford HealthCare is already addressing this issue on multiple fronts. One ground-breaking initiative seeks to improve access to doulas – specially trained community health workers who provide expert support during pregnancy, labor and delivery. To do this, Hartford HealthCare is teaming up with the state to provide free doula training and certification to increase the availability of doulas who represent our communities and speak their languages. In addition, Hartford HealthCare is committed to integrating doulas as members of the care team.

You can’t change what you don’t measure

Before anyone can address the issues that lead to health inequities, it’s critical to understand who is seeking care and what their individual needs are. That’s why data collection is the cornerstone of HHC’s Center for Equity, led by Chief Equity Officer Sarah Lewis and Dr. James Cardon, Executive Vice President for Clinical Integration. Because race and ethnicity data is frequently missing from medical records, it can be impossible to be sure what’s behind poor health outcomes and how to address them. We may know, for example, that Latinos suffer from diabetes at higher rates. But is the statistic the same for Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and people from Ecuador? An initiative called “We Ask Because We Care” has been successful at other large healthcare systems across the country in helping healthcare providers feel more comfortable collecting race and ethnicity information and helping patients to understand why it’s important. A similar initiative is coming to Hartford HealthCare soon. At the event, the inaugural leaders of HHC’s Colleague Resource Groups were recognized and community members who advise HHC as Equity Champions shared their perspectives. “I want to set pace so that everybody knows how to be in the rhythm of equity,” Lewis said. “That’s the rhythm of liberation, of collective healing…That’s the change I want to see.”