The Importance of Working Together to Advance Health Equity
February is Black History Month, a time designated to celebrate achievements by Black Americans and recognize their central role in U.S. history. LMH Health honors Black History Month by focusing on health equity and acknowledging our role as a health care provider.
What is health equity?
Health equity has been an important consideration for LMH Health since its inception more than 100 years ago. As a non-profit community hospital providing more than $25 million in charitable care each year, investments in this area are meant to ensure that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health, including discrimination and implicit bias, lack of access to quality education and housing, and health care.
Though health disparities are a nationwide issue, they also can be seen in our local community. The Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health 2018 Health Equity Report showed disparities in health by income and education. In Douglas County, racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately impacted by their social determinants of health, such as availability of resources like safe housing and food, and access to job opportunities and healthcare. Residents with low income are also affected.
“Providing equality means providing an equal opportunity for everyone,” said Erica Hill, LMH Health director for Health Equity, Inclusion and Diversity. “Though we strive for equality and understand its importance, equity fills the gaps that equality might not. For example, if you give two people a book but one cannot read, you provided them with equal resources but one cannot gain the knowledge the other can. Similarly, when it comes to healthcare, it is important as an organization that we do our part to ensure health safety and equity to our patients and community every day.”
The CDC reports that one in three deaths in the United States is due to cardiovascular disease. People of all ages, genders, races and ethnicities are affected. However, certain groups—including Black Americans and older individuals—are at higher risk than others.
What is LMH Health doing to promote health equity?
As part of LMH Health’s commitment to better serve all populations in our community, the hospital named Erica Hill as the new director of health equity, inclusion and diversity.
Hill is currently the director of finance and strategic initiatives at LMH Health Foundation and will continue to serve in that role alongside her new position. Over the past few years, she has worked to increase education and programming around health equity, inclusion and diversity at LMH Health and around the community.
Hill leads the LMH Health Equity Advancement Team, which focuses on addressing health disparities.
“LMH Health’s purpose is a partner for lifelong health,” said Hill. “Through the work of our Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Advisors and the Health Equity Advancement Team, we are affirming our commitments to this purpose by providing the infrastructure needed to educate, innovate and advance efforts designed to eliminate health and healthcare disparities.
“We continue intentionally collaborating with our LMH Health colleagues and community partners to ensure everyone in our community has the opportunity to be as healthy as possible. We want everyone to feel a sense of belonging when they come to LMH Health,” said Hill.
LMH Health and the LMH Health Foundation are building programs to help bridge the health equity gap. LMH Health President and CEO Russ Johnson believes this work is integral to the hospital’s role as a partner in lifelong health.
“Eighty percent of health is determined by social factors—where you live, how much money you make,” said Johnson. “The single best predictor of life expectancy is zip code, and in Lawrence, adjacent zip codes have an eight-year discrepancy in life expectancy. As the largest safety net organization in our community, LMH Health must extend its work into more areas that can affect the health of our patients.”
Implicit bias and its impact on health disparities
Race and ethnicity is central to health, as diseases like cancer can affect individuals differently. For example, Black women are nearly twice as likely as white women to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer and are much more likely than white women to die from breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Over the past two years, LMH Health has hosted several workshops on implicit bias—the unintentional, unconscious stereotypes or automatic assessments that we all make about people whose backgrounds differ from our own. These workshops, featuring Dr. Jabraan Pasha, discussed when implicit bias occurs among doctors, educators and other professionals, the results can have a direct impact on our community.
The LMH Health Foundation has provided funding to advance health equity and reduce disparities. In 2020, LMH Health Foundation created a new Health Equity Advancement Fund, which supports various health equity initiatives at the hospital. To contribute to this fund, please visit lmh.org/donate.
“Working for the LMH Health Foundation, I see firsthand how philanthropy has an impact on health outcomes,” Hill said. “We have donors that are willing to bridge the gap and create an opportunity for others to be healthy. Because of their generosity we are able to provide mammogram certificates for anyone who cannot afford one. We also have our help and healing fund that helps support our patients who may not be receiving be able to afford certain medical expenses themselves, this fund also helps our providers ensure their patients stay on the path to healthy living and safe healing.”
LMH Health Foundation, through funds raised via the oncology fundraiser Rock the Block – Kick Cancer, offers mammogram certificate to cover the costs of mammograms, breast biopsies, and prostate screenings. To learn how you can receive a certificate, please call LMH Health Patient Accounts at 785-505-5775.
“In order to advance health equity in our community we must work together,” Hill said.