President’s Update: HCIF’s Ongoing Commitment to Anti-Racism

May 26, 2021 | Wendy Nickel

It’s been a year since George Floyd was murdered. Not unlike many organizations, we at HCIF have expended many resources over the past year thinking about racism, talking about our goals as an organization, and planning ongoing educational activities. Admittedly, we have grappled with the amount of time our staff has dedicated to this work, given that our primary work is typically grant-funded and staff have limited time to work on anything besides their projects.  We have also grappled with what HCIF’s role should be in speaking out against racism in contexts unrelated to healthcare.

Let me share a bit about this difficult and challenging journey and where we are going.

Six months ago, we gathered the leaders of our staff Anti-Racism Council to discuss how HCIF should respond to Walter Wallace, Jr.’s killing at the hands of police while experiencing a mental health crisis. We felt our best path was to continue educating our internal team about structural racism and re-double our efforts to dismantling racism within our own organization.  We also offered resources for staff to learn about how they could volunteer, donate to or otherwise support organizations aligned with our anti-racist agenda.

And then six Asian-American women were murdered in Atlanta. And 13-year old Mexican American boy, Adam Toledo, was killed by police. And another African-American man, Daunte Wright, was killed by police not far from where Derek Chauvin was standing trial for the murder of George Floyd. And each time, I gathered the leaders of our Anti-Racism Council to discuss the HCIF response.  Should we develop another statement condemning racism? Or develop a social media campaign? Or hold another educational session for our staff? Or provide listening sessions so our team can vent their concerns, sadness, and frustration?

And each time, we asked the same question, what is HCIF’s role in advocating against racism and promoting equity? The answer has actually become clearer each time a new racist incident or event gains media attention. The roots of racism are deep and intertangled not only in our criminal justice system, but in all facets of our society, including our public health system. If our vision as an organization is to “create a responsive, coordinated health care community that fulfills the needs of patients and consumers, and achieves better health,” we can’t possibly achieve our vision without improving the issues that lead to poor health, including addressing equity. To build an equitable healthcare system for all, we must fight against the injustices that lead to healthcare disparities including various social determinants of health: violence, poverty, food insecurity, and polluted air and water.

We know we can’t solve every issue and in some cases, our expertise and focus should be on how we can address racism specifically within the healthcare system. However, there are other ways we can and will not only show our support, but do our own work to dismantle racism. This includes having a long-standing commitment to becoming an anti-racist organization. Our Anti-Racism Council recently conducted an organizational assessment and we recognize that while we have a long way to go, we are committed to running the marathon, not just the sprint. We will be developing a roadmap for how we intend to address bias and privilege in our own programs. We hope to engage an external expert to advise on the development of this roadmap and other ways we can ensure equity in all we do. We commit to aligning ourselves with housing, criminal justice, mental health, and other stakeholders who have missions that contribute to the health of communities.

And when racist incidents or events occur in the future, as they almost undoubtedly will, we will continue to formulate authentic responses based on the needs of our staff members, our partners, and our community.  These responses will be based on the premise that racism is a threat to the public health and just as we would fight against a virus, we will engage all of the tools and resources at our disposal to fight racism.


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