President’s Update: Reversing the Down Escalator

October 28, 2022 | Wendy Nickel

Earlier this month, HCIF held our annual Partnership for Patient Care Leadership Summit – HCIF’s first in-person event since 2019. It was also HCIF’s first-ever hybrid event and we were delighted to welcome over 100 people both virtually and IRL (in real life). The Summit’s theme was “Achieving Health Equity through Community Engagement” and featured keynote speaker, Dr. Somava Saha, a health equity expert from Well-Being and Health Equity in the World, as well as Victor Murray, Senior Director of Community Engagement and Capacity Building from the Camden Coalition.

Dr. Saha’s talk outlined the benefits of engaging communities to advance healthcare quality, safety and equity. She shared powerful images of how place-based inequities have been caused by long-standing policies intended to propagate them, such as redlining, predatory lending, and gentrification. Using a compelling metaphor, Dr. Saha likened health equity to an escalator –in communities where resources are plentiful, the up escalator represents the ease by which individuals can get to where they’re going without obstacles or being slowed down.

However, in less-resourced communities, individuals are constantly trying to go up the down escalator – each time they encounter an obstacle, such as illness, unemployment or unstable housing, it is harder and harder to get to the top. She described the importance of engaging communities to address equity at the roots of what drives health care disparities. Using this approach, for example, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital partnered with the public school system to increase third-grade reading levels. This work resulted in decreased hospital utilization and inpatient days for the targeted communities.

Victor Murray showcased Camden Coalition’s programs that advance health equity through community engagement and emphasized the power of partnership between healthcare providers and community-based organizations. His presentation began with reminding the audience about the importance of individual relationships. He led an exercise where he asked each person to write a note to someone they care about and why. This was an important reminder for tapping into the reasons we are in healthcare and despite facing challenging situations, continue to persevere for the good of communities.

The theme of health equity was carried throughout the day, including the Delaware Valley Patient and Safety and Quality Award program. Celebrating its 20th year, the award featured new criteria in 2022, including health equity and patient and family engagement. The top three winners were Temple University Hospital, Fox Chase Cancer Center and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, with programs focused on: utilizing a community health worker program to improve frequency of visits by individuals with complex needs; improving crash cart readiness; and increasing breastfeeding initiation rates among African American patients in the newborn nursery.

Audience members also heard from HCIF staff about two of our signature programs. April Reilly presented about the important work of the Health Equity Data Strategy (HEDS) collaborative, which is comprises area hospitals working to improve the collection and utilization of racial, ethnicity, and language (REaL) data in order to address health care disparities. Additionally, Kelsey Salazar provided an inspiring and passionate look at the Collaborative Opportunities to Advance Community Health (COACH) program and how it fosters collaboration between a variety of stakeholders to improve food insecurity and trauma-informed care.

It was a remarkable day of learning and sharing, marked by metaphors and images for how to achieve health equity with partnership, care, and engagement of community.  It certainly felt that all of us were working to reverse the down escalators that day. Thanks to all of you who attended and if you were not able to participate, feel free to view the presentations and recordings from the Partnership for Patient Care 2022 Leadership Summit, by following this link and clicking the “Leadership Summit” tab.

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