November 24, 2020
When George Floyd was killed in May, coupled with the disproportionate number of African American deaths due to COVID, it seemed that America had awakened to the inequities we have long ignored as a country. But in this time of the 24-hour news cycle and daunting images and headlines screaming at us from the TV, phone, and computer, it’s easy to forget. It’s easy to get distracted by the headlines…over 250,000 dead from COVID, election chaos and legal battles, confrontations over masks and public health mandates. Another unjustified killing by the police of a black man, Walter Wallace, Jr., suffering from mental illness. It’s exhausting and so it’s easy to forget. But forgetting also means complacency. We have much to do, much to repair, and now is not the time to be complacent. Not now, there is too much at stake.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, Health Care Improvement Foundation (HCIF), like many other organizations, released a statement on racism and inequity. I am proud of this statement because it included action steps and a commitment to do the introspective work we promised to do as an organization to contribute to the dismantling of racism. In the months since the statement’s release, we have tried to remain true to our commitment to action and formed an employee Anti-Racism Council (ARC). The ARC is developing a roadmap for HCIF to address multiple layers where racism or bias may be embedded: interpersonal, organizational and external. The ARC first developed a glossary of terms and educational resources in order to ensure our employees used shared language to discuss racism. We held an all-staff educational workshop in August to explain systemic racism and how it impacts public health. We also facilitated exercises and discussions related to understanding personal privilege. Our next educational workshop will be held in December and will address implicit bias. As a small non-profit with limited resources, we have found ways to get this work off the ground, while thoughtfully considering ways to invest resources so that we have the necessary external expertise to continue this critical journey.
With ARC’s leadership, HCIF has identified opportunities to partner with other organizations who share similar values and has signed on to two organizational letters: one to promote the equitable distribution of a COVID vaccine and another to support improved mental health resources and de-escalation training for police. We have also been carefully assessing opportunities to address racial equity within our programs, such as by: potentially hiring a health equity consultant to support our work in health literacy and promoting collection of race, ethnicity and language (REAL) data among our clinical partners. In addition to applying anti-racist efforts to our existing programs, we are beginning a partnership with an African-American radio station, WURD, to promote colorectal cancer screening. Colorectal cancer disproportionately kills African Americans, and it is the responsibility of organizations like HCIF to address these disparities. We will be soon be embarking on an organizational assessment to dissect our current policies, organizational governance, and general culture. We are in the process of updating our organizational bylaws to include a clause on diversity to cultivate an environment of open communication, inclusion, and respect. We are also actively recruiting for new Board members who reflect the diversity of the communities we serve.
We have tried to be humble in our approach and realize we may not always get it right, but we’re trying. And we have to keep trying to dismantle racism and promote equity. Because if we forget for one moment, we become complacent. And complacency is culpability.