Ending racial disparities in healthcare

June 5, 2020 Rod Hochman


7 ways we can take action now

“The time is always right to do what is right.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was 13 when Dr. King was assassinated. I remember watching the news like it was yesterday — the grief and outrage that erupted, the peaceful protests, as well as riots and looting. There was also the Vietnam War. We were a nation on edge, just as we are today.

Now, as I reflect on current events, the question I have been pondering is this: How is Providence being called to respond to the times?

At Providence, we believe health is a human right. Yet access to health care is one of the biggest inequalities in America. People of color are adversely impacted by the social conditions that affect health. And with the pandemic, African Americans are dying of COVID-19 at three times the rate of people who are white.

While I am proud of the way we have partnered with minority communities to improve health, I recognize there is still much more to do. As the Providence values statement reminds us, with this verse from 1 John 3:18, “Let us love not merely with words and speech but with actions in truth.”

I believe there are seven ways we can act in truth to address the racial disparities that exist in health and health care in America.

  1. Mobilize COVID-19 resources for people of color before the next wave hits. We need to ensure testing and drug therapies are available for African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and all minority communities, and we need to plan now for how to quickly distribute a vaccine to these populations as soon as one becomes available.
  2. Go beyond our usual outreach and connect directly with minority communities. With the data available today, we know by zip code where the gaps are in the social determinants of health. Let’s work directly with these communities to meet the needs and understand how to deliver services, digitally and in-person, in a way that is culturally respectful and builds trust.
  3. Advocate for “Primary Care for All.” Providence is developing a campaign platform around the concept of free primary care for every American. By guaranteeing access to primary care, the nation can level the playing field and ensure everyone, especially people of color, has an equal chance to live the healthiest life possible.
  4. Get out the vote. As we have in previous elections, Providence will continue to play a role in educating the public on key ballot initiatives that affect the health of all, including minority communities. This year, we are also planning to support voter registration drives across the seven states we serve. There will be opportunities for caregivers to volunteer, and we’ll share more details soon.
  5. Promote the census. The U.S. Census is one important way to identify minority populations, so that federal resources, including health care programs, can be allocated appropriately. Providence has been designated as a National Census Partner, and we are actively working with local coalitions and governments to promote participation. 
  6. Support safety net programs for disadvantaged populations. We will continue being a voice for vital safety net programs. Medicaid is one of these along with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Caregivers can join us by participating in grassroots campaigns to email their members of Congress about the importance of these programs.
  7. Accelerate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Earlier this year, Providence established a social responsibility platform that includes a stronger commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. It is one step we can take in our own workplaces and communities to create the society that Dr. King envisioned. You will hear more about this important work very soon.

As our values call us to do, let’s hold ourselves accountable to do the right things for the right reasons. Our country is at an historic crossroad. While it is a painful and divisive time, it is also the exact right time to step up and affirm our commitment to the health of all. Together, we can be a conduit for healing, unity and equality. 

About the Author

Rod Hochman

Rod Hochman is president and CEO of Providence St. Joseph Health, a national, Catholic, not-for-profit health system, comprising a diverse family of organizations serving Alaska, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington.

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