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Health Care Leaders Address Bias and Inequity at Hamilton Retreat

April 12, 2022

Addressing bias and ending inequities in healthcare begins with each of us looking in the mirror. That was message during the annual Hamilton Retreat attended by more than 80 Hartford Hospital physicians, leaders and board members held virtually on April 7. The event included a discussion among participants about the important role healthcare professionals and health systems play in leading meaningful and lasting change.

“We in healthcare know that we are part of this life and death situation. We are here because we are part of a health system. And we have decades of reports that demonstrate unequivocally the impact of bias on lives, on care, on outcomes and quality,” said Javeed Sukhera, MD, PhD, FRCPC, Chief of Psychiatry, Institute of Living & Chief of Psychiatry, Hartford Hospital. “Where do we go from here? We have to think about breaking that cycle of fear, labeling, avoidance and helplessness. We need to turn to courage. We need to break the cycle by breaking the silence.”

Hartford HealthCare President and CEO Jeffrey Flaks has initiated a 14-point plan to address bias and health equity across Hartford HealthCare, which includes the formation of diversity councils and colleague resource groups, implicit bias training, increased efforts to recruit people of color into leadership roles and the expansion of our health equity programs. Flaks says that our health system now has a mandate to make meaningful change.

“We are making great progress in addressing diversity, inclusion and equity on the governance and leadership levels. We are becoming more reflective of the communities we serve. And, it’s imperative that we do so,” said Flaks. “We’re pleased [with this progress] but we aren’t satisfied.”

The Hamilton Retreat, created by former Hospital President Dr. T Stewart Hamilton following the tragic fire at the hospital in 1961, is an annual gathering of Hartford Hospital medical staff, board members and hospital leaders to discuss what matters most to our hospital and community—“a community of interest and a common purpose,” as Dr. Hamilton referred to it.

“The pandemic has added an even higher level of urgency in our efforts to address areas such as racial inequities in healthcare and the need for improved access to our most vulnerable populations,” said Hartford Region President Bimal Patel.

Hartford Region Board of Directors Chair Alexia Cruz spoke about the importance of having a hospital and board that is representative of the community.

“And as we deliver on our newest value, ‘Equity’, we must also look in the mirror as a hospital and health system. This means having a medical staff that is fully committed and having a medical staff that is also representative of our community,” said Cruz. “I can tell by your presence here today that you are engaged and ready to help us lead these critical changes and ensure that all of our patients are getting the care they need and deserve.”

Dr. Sukhera was joined by Sarah Lewis, MPH, Hartford HealthCare Vice President of Health, Equity and Inclusion in delivering the keynote presentation at the virtual event called “Bias in the Mirror.” Lewis said using Hartford HealthCare’s H3W behaviors is a good foundation to make meaningful change.

“If we build equity into everything we do, we can make a change. Equity lives in [Hartford HealthCare’s] values. We have to see this as collective work, work that we’re doing together to help all of us,” said Lewis.

Hartford Region Vice President of Medical Affairs Adam Steinberg, DO, MBA, FACOG, FACS called on leaders to seize the moment to initiate change.

“As physicians and leaders we are in the historic position to make changes that will transform how care is delivered to those who need it most, in our most at risk communities. And we are in a position to ensure that our care teams, our staff, our providers are a better representation of the communities we serve. This begins with us addressing and overcoming these inherent biases,” said Steinberg.