Health inequality existed long before COVID-19, but the pandemic magnified vulnerabilities in our healthcare system that now simply cannot be ignored. Many organizations have had health equity as a focus area, but the pandemic has made it clear that health equity needs to be a strategic priority for the healthcare industry.
There are a lot of high-profile organizations involved the conversation around health equity, both within the health industry and outside of it. However, there are too many people and organizations admiring the problem and not nearly enough doing anything about it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black and Latinx Americans, for example, are roughly four times more likely to be hospitalized with complications from COVID-19 than non-Hispanic white people. Data from the CDC also shows that, in the U.S., people in these two groups who contract COVID-19 are roughly three times more likely to die from it than non-Hispanic White Americans. Asian Americans and Native Americans are at higher risk as well.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Oct. '21 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine
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Long-standing systemic social and health inequities, including some that have been made worse by bad policies, have put BIPOC groups at increased risk of getting sick, in addition to having overall poor health, and having worse outcomes when they do get sick. These disparities exist due to a number of factors, including lack of access to quality health care and checkups, residential segregation, and higher poverty and stress rates among BIPOC groups.
Health equity is no longer just a concern for public health departments and nonprofit organizations only—it has become a national imperative that centers around a strong foundation of communication.
Healthcare organizations have increasingly acknowledged the presence of healthcare disparities across race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status, but significantly fewer have made health equity for diverse patients a true priority.
While healthcare organizations alone don’t have the power to improve or solve all of society’s health barriers, they do have the power to address disparities directly at the point of care, and to impact many of the factors that create these disparities.
The business case for achieving health equity has never been more evident.
Health equity can be a reputation driver. It leverages relationships, demonstrates culture and citizenship, and if done well, can be measured over time, but it needs to be done with purpose. Acting with purpose matters, and expectations to deliver are higher than ever, particularly in light of competing health priorities and shifting socioeconomic factors that have adversely affected BIPOC, rural and other communities.
Meaningful ways to connect and resonate with diverse communities are critical to making an impact. Why? Because we want to feel we’re making a direct impact when we donate dollars, seek support and partner with experts for discovery and improved care.
It starts at the top, too. Health equity needs to be a leader-driven priority. Senior management must not only articulate the vision, but also act on it by building it into all high-level decision making.
Without a proper understanding of the problem, messages around health equity can go unnoticed or may lead to unfavorable actions.
Language in communication should reflect and speak to the needs of the people in the audience of focus. Health equity is also intersectional, with individuals belonging to more than one group, who may have overlapping health and social inequities or certain strengths.
Public health programs, policies and practices are more likely to succeed when they recognize and reflect the diversity of the community they are trying to reach.
Health inequities do not have a single cause, so one organization alone cannot address them.
That’s why it’s critical for organizations to collaborate if they are serious about addressing health equity in the populations they serve. This includes relevant partnerships with advocacy groups, as community engagement is critical to developing culturally relevant, unbiased communication.
Making an impact
At Padilla, we’re working with a wide range of purpose-driven organizations at the intersection of population health, health equity and disparities in BIPOC communities and other underserved populations.
From consensus-building, grassroots outreach, thought leadership and employee engagement, we’re working to advance conversations that drive awareness and action to make healthcare accessible and equitable for all. We help organizations pursue important initiatives within their communities, cultivate their social license to operate and communicate their corporate-responsibility programs. It starts with purpose.
Brandon Skop is a Vice President, Health at Padilla.