Those of you who are leaders in business and in your community are likely personally familiar with the following scenarios. When you do something well, you receive glowing headlines, and when you do something poorly, the headlines are screaming with outrage. But when you neglect to do something that needs to be done, it often goes unnoticed. This is the root of the problem when it comes to the issue of equity, especially health equity.
Many well-run organizations think health equity is covered by carefully crafted mission statements or HR policies. Those outside the healthcare industry might say, “If it’s about health, why would that involve me in business or education?”
In reality, it involves you deeply. It involves everyone. Nearly 20 percent of the economy is related to healthcare. If we, as a society, don’t move toward better health equity, businesses and communities will continue to pay for the lack of health and competitiveness of our workforce due to poor access, poor delivery, misaligned research and chronic marginal outcomes. The difference between values promulgated in the mission statement of your organization versus what can be measurably accomplished with action is remarkable.
I am not talking about equality. Having equal access to care is markedly different than having an equitable distribution of care. Pursuing equality will almost always leave the poorer, less educated and less resourced at a significant disadvantage. An equitable system flexes to help build capacity for the varying communities it serves. The claims of “it is equal” most often come from those who have consistent advantage.
So what does health equity truly look like? In 2001, the Institute of Medicine concisely described it as:
“Providing care that does not vary in quality because of personal characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, geographic location, and socioeconomic status.”
Although some will argue it is the government’s responsibility—or the HR department’s responsibility—to ensure health equity, it is really the responsibility of community leaders. It’s a moral imperative and also a great strategic advantage, as outlined by Johnathan Holifield‘s book The Future Economy and Inclusive Competitiveness.
Hard work to be sure, but there is a defined path to health equity that leaders in business and the community can follow. The Health Equity Action Path is a three-pronged approach that begins internally with our organizations.
The first step on our path to health equity is to ensure the leadership in our businesses have a clear declaration of how they must act—as well as hire and train—consistent with the organization’s intentions and standards.
Next, we must change our systems to adjust for variable needs. Women, children, people of color, and seniors have routinely had less than optimal health and healthcare because we have failed to modify for differing needs. As always, we need to perform research and measure outcomes to determine that we are really accomplishing what we promise.
Finally, in the community, leaders need to lead the discussion on policy generation, elevating equity across the community to demonstrate equity-based regional business practices and investment to increase competitiveness.
Fortunately, there are many resources to help us along. A social determinants roadmap is thoughtfully laid out by Health Leads. Holifield’s aforementioned book and the Health Anchor Network can broaden our view and give clear action steps on how to both compete and collaborate with other businesses and universities and deliver on equity.
Hoping someone else will take on this challenge is not consistent with most of our mission or values statements.
We can and will rise to this moral imperative and increase our competitiveness at the same time. If we can move past equality to equitable delivering of services and products, we will inevitably improve the long-term health and well-being of our staff, those we serve, and our broader communities.
First published on ForbesBooks.com/MD