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RWJBarnabas launches initiative to address systemic racism

The initiative was born out of a realization that the health system needed to do more to improve outcomes and eliminate health disparities.

Mallory Hackett, Associate Editor

One of New Jersey's largest academic healthcare systems, RWJBarnabas Health, announced this week a new initiative aimed at addressing systemic racism while promoting an antiracist culture within its organization and the communities it serves.

Called Ending Racism, Together, the program intends to create racial, ethnic and cultural equity by uplifting disenfranchised communities that face poor health, social, economic and educational outcomes at the hands of racism.

RWJBarnabas is focusing its efforts on four primary areas: patient care, workforce, community, and system operations. It has taken an evidence-based approach and each area has quantifiable tactics of measurement to track progress across the organizational, facility, and individual levels. 

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WHY THIS MATTERS

The initiative was born out of a partnership between the president and CEO of RWJBarnabas Barry Ostrowsky and the Corporate Board of Trustees that recognized the health system needed to do more to strengthen its commitment to equity in order to improve outcomes and eliminate health disparities.

Both the pandemic and recent civil injustices triggered RWJBarnabas into creating the Ending Racism, Together initiative, Ostrowsky said in a statement.

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minority groups, with high rates of death in African American, Native American and Latinx communities. In fact, 21.8% of COVID-19 cases in the United States were African Americans and 33.8% were Latinx, despite the fact that these groups comprise only 13% and 18% of the US population, respectively, according to Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The past year has been marked with mass civil unrest, consisting of nationwide protests primarily focused on the systematic racism against Black people in the U.S., oftentimes in the form of police violence.

Protests were set off following the death of George Floyd during his arrest by Minneapolis police officers, which have led to a larger Black Lives Matter movement.

THE LARGER TREND

Health systems across the country were called to action this Juneteenth when 36 Chicago hospitals penned an open letter declaring systemic racism a "public health crisis."

Since then, many health systems have created programs to help address the crisis.

Independence Blue Cross and Signify Health launched CommunityLink, a community-based organization network targeting the social determinants of health, in the Philadelphia region.

Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance joined the Cherished Futures for Black Moms and Babies initiative of South Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley. The program's goal is to reduce the gap in infant mortality rates between Black and white babies by 30% by 2023. It also seeks to improve health outcomes by decreasing pregnancy and birth complications from hypertension, lowering hemorrhage rates and decreasing the number of low birthweight babies in the neonatal ICU.

RWJBarnabas also launched a social determinant of health program earlier this year, called Health Beyond the Hospital, to refer and connect patients to community-based services.

ON THE RECORD

"For the past several years, RWJBarnabas Health has become a national leader in the country as we have worked towards diversity, equity and inclusion. Now we recognize the need to accelerate our efforts," Barry Ostrowsky said. "The pandemic, paired with the recent civil injustices, have shone a very bright light on inequity and systemic racism. Ending Racism, Together, one of our most important endeavors, will be transformative, not just for people of color but for our entire enterprise."

Twitter: @HackettMallory
Email the writer: mhackett@himss.org