How Medical Professionals, Scholars, and Activists Want to Change the Health System

What does health equity mean to you?

The Health Equity Collective is a coalition of health leaders setting new standards of health and wellness in the U.S.

A system can only change when individuals, communities, and institutions move towards something greater gradually, deeply, and daily. When the goal is to shift a system as old, rigid, and biased as healthcare, what does that mean at the individual level? What does it look like to advance health equity in our rituals, practices, and professions?

We asked the Health Equity Collective, a group of leaders envisioning a new future for health justice, about what part of the system they are tackling and how they are taking the first steps for health justice.

Aasim I. Padela

Professor and Vice Chair of Research and Scholarship in Department of Emergency Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin

What's your health equity super power?

Through community-based interventions, and health policy recommendations, I tackle health and healthcare inequities that result from inadequately attending to the religious dimensions of health and healthcare delivery.

What is a part of the system you want to tackle?

This is hard since I believe most of it needs remedy. Today, healthcare is set up around acute tertiary care hospitals financed as a sick care system (not around health/wellness maintenance) and dependent on health insurance (not health assurance). In my scholarship, I focus on activating individuals to play a more participatory role in their own health maintenance. By increasing health literacy and demanding balanced information from care providers, people can make informed decisions and ultimately reduce disparities between majority and minority communities. On the healthcare system side, I work on religious accommodations for both providers and patients in healthcare. In a time where religion seems to drive politics and policies, and liberal views push towards accommodating people’s identities authentically, we must also address religious identity.

Learn more about Aasim's work here and @aasim_padela.

Chelesa Fearce

Medical Student at Yale Medical School

What's your health equity super power?

I am bold, passionate and have lived experience dealing with healthcare systems. I can also relate to almost anyone I meet in one way or another.

What is a part of the system you want to tackle?

The particular nuances that I bring to this work are two. First, I am one of the few researchers who is interested in the way religious values, beliefs, and identity influence the patterning of health and healthcare inequities. Secondly, I focus on the ethics of health inequities. By this I mean that we must recognize that the present social structuring of healthcare emerges from a set of assumptions about society and individuals. In other words certain values are privileged and others are not.

Learn more about Chelsea's work here.

Constance Norris-Lacy, PhD, LCSW

Dean of the School of Human Services at University of North Texas at Dallas

What's your health equity super power?

I feel confident in my ability to have conversations about the Social Determinants of Health and the disparities faced by African American people.

What is a part of the system you want to tackle?

As a clinical social worker, I am interested in the impact of health disparities on the African American culture. Unless there is a cultural lens to examine all relevant experiences and differences for groups considered minorities, discussions are ineffective. If all benchmarks are normed to white, Anglo-Saxon individuals, we will continue to experience gaps in services and limited-to-no access to resources. Health equity arises only when you give voice to the individuals who face systemic forms of racial discrimination, exclusion, and ongoing biases. Implementing change that validates the lived experiences of people of color and indigenous cultures is the only viable start to creating health equity.

Learn more about Constance's work here.

Jamahal C. Boyd, Sr.

Chief Executive Officer at The Crossroads Center

What's your health equity super power?

Equity Solutionist—meaning, one who has the ability to analyze, process, develop and implement strategies that lead to measurable and sustainable outcomes.

What is a part of the system you want to tackle?

I would like to help develop an ecosystem of care where health providers and community stakeholders are responsible for ensuring that every individual—regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, social economic status, sexual orientation—receives equitable care that keeps them out of the system and/or allows them to improve their health outcomes. In addition to this, it’s vital to hold all stakeholders accountable for their part of the ecosystem. This ensures health equity by allowing subject matter experts to focus on enhancing their quality of care, service delivery, and communications with others within the ecosystem centered around caring for the full "HUMAN"(mind, body and spirit) holistically.

Learn more about Jamahal's work here and @theexec.

Dr. Rochelle Head-Dunham

Executive and Medical Director at Metropolitan Human Services District

What's your health equity super power?

I am an influencer in the Health Equity space.

What is a part of the system you want to tackle?

My foundation in everything I do is grounded in Equity and Excellence. Since forever, I have recognized disparity and inequity in how we as Blacks and People of Color are treated in general, and in the expectations of us, as we engage in any system in this country. Mentoring, teaching, and educating for systemic change is my sphere of influence. I create opportunities for meaningful professional and social mentorship for Blacks/POCs, people who look like me and who have the capability to, but have not yet achieved some of my accomplishments. Quietly but intentionally, that’s the way I lead and create health equity.

Learn more about Dr. Dunham's work here.

Ross Jones

Medical Director, Community Health at UF Health Jacksonville

What's your health equity super power?

Taking the nebulous vision of health equity and making tangible programs that take first steps towards that goal.

What is a part of the system you want to tackle?

Today, in the spaces that should be the most supportive and accessible, many patients are made to feel unseen, unheard, and unimportant. Not surprisingly, many patients from marginalized and vulnerable communities develop mistrust of healthcare providers and systems—leading many to avoid or to limit their interactions with the healthcare system. My dream is to make clinical spaces inclusive, welcoming and empowering to all. If we are striving for health equity, the first step to overcoming this mistrust is to create spaces that embody and reflect patients’ voices and needs.

Learn more about Ross's work here.

Sangeeta Tripathi

Director of Strategy and Operations for the HEAL Initiative, UCSF

What's your health equity super power?

I bring less structurally powerful folks to the global health ‘table’, and build strong relationships across power, culture, and geography. I can also come up with helpful metaphors on the spot. Oh and grit, lots of it.

What is a part of the system you want to tackle?

As we’ve learned from the Disability Justice Movement: nothing about us without us is for us. The health equity system will get fundamentally stronger if it is led by people from resourced-denied communities. I want to use my capacity to help shift ‘who’ is at the table when it comes to global health decision making. This means inviting talented, marginalized folks in the U.S. and across the world to join and stay in health equity work. It includes supporting first generation to college physicians work with the underserved communities at the start of their career as well as supporting mid-career Navajo, Nepali, or Mexican nurses, MDs, and social workers to lead their health systems.

Learn more about Sangeeta's work here.

Sinsi Hernández-Cancio

Vice President for Health Justice at National Partnership for Women & Families

What's your health equity super power?

Having conversations about racism and privilege with white people in a way that opens understanding, rather than defensiveness.

What is a part of the system you want to tackle?

I want to tackle the underlying drivers of health inequities of the health [non]system so that our nation can provide the highest quality, equitable health care possible to every single human being. With health care being the largest sector of the nation’s economy, it is imperative that resources be redistributed into the communities most affected by racism and other forms of structural disadvantage to remedy centuries of resource extraction—including land and labor—and systemic disinvestment. I’ve succeeded (so far) in transforming my own experiences of individual and collective trauma into a clear, strong voice that unapologetically advocates for racial and gender justice. Because I have attained certain signifiers of “expertise,” I’m often invited into spaces of influence and power, and I leverage those opportunities to interrupt “business as usual,” call for true inclusivity, hold space for those who are excluded, and name the imperative of dismantling racism.

Learn more about Sinsi's work here.

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