CommonSpirit's new institute aims to restore healthcare's compassion, civility

When Lloyd Dean, former CEO of Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health, announced his  retirement more than a year ago, his colleagues brainstormed ways to keep his vision front and center. 

Thus, the Lloyd H. Dean Institute for Humankindness & Health Justice was born. Kindness, compassion, empathy and trust were hallmarks of his legacy, and the new institute seeks to leverage the science of those areas to accelerate health equity, its president, Alisahah Jackson, MD, told Becker's

The word "humankindness" was formulated before the health system itself. Prior to the merger with Catholic Health Initiatives that formed CommonSpirit, Dignity Health was studying kindness with Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. 

"What they found is that kindness has an impact on health outcomes," Dr. Jackson said. "It can lower anxiety in the healthcare setting, it can lower blood pressure, it can promote faster healing post-op." 

"Because of that, the decision was made to create this word [humankindness] that really reflects kindness in action, and how we have to connect that to the humanity of each and every one of us," she said. "When people are coming through our doors in a healthcare setting, it's at a time when they are most vulnerable." 

When CommonSpirit was founded, "humankindness" remained central to its mission. Now, Dr. Jackson is formulating a strategic plan that will recenter that word to guide the institute. 

Her plan will zero in on four areas. Dr. Jackson calls the first "humankindness in action" to describe implementing research on kindness into clinical care settings. 

The second focus looks to diversify the workforce with educational initiatives. CommonSpirit leverages partnerships with historically Black medical schools, like Atlanta-based Morehouse School of Medicine and Los Angeles-based Charles Drew University, to advance this mission. Dr. Jackson also aims to get into elementary and middle schools to pique students' interest in medicine. 

Third, the institute will focus on policies both governmental — what Dr. Jackson calls "big P policy" — and internal to the health system — "little P policy" — that impact health equity. Oftentimes, health systems have policies in place that unintentionally allow disparity to seep in, according to Dr. Jackson. 

Finally, the institute will seek justice beyond the health system's facilities. Hospitals can serve as anchor institutions for the communities they serve, which gives them the opportunity to accelerate health equity outside their own four walls, according to Dr. Jackson. The institute will focus on "upstream" barriers to good health, including financial instability or a lack of education, to work toward healthier populations. 

Dr. Jackson aims to have the plan complete in early 2023. In the institute's first year, she hopes to implement one signature program. In its first five, she hopes to raise $50 million. 

She is working to create a national advisory council of external leaders in the kindness-science-sphere and plans to measure her success using quantitative metrics. 

"Evaluation and measurement are critically important. I'm kind of a data nerd behind the scenes," Dr. Jackson said. "There will be very clear outcomes that we will be working towards." 

But her primary focus remains relatively simple: Inject grace and kindness into spaces where they lack. 

Growing up, Dr. Jackson's grandmother was committed to giving back. Her house was a place people visited when they needed anything, from food to clothing. She believed that everyone deserves grace, and now, Dr. Jackson is recentering that sentiment in the healthcare industry. 

"When we see all the disparities that exist, when we see a lack of civility toward one another,  this is a critically important time for us to reconnect with one another — with our humanity," Dr. Jackson said. "My hope is that the institute can trigger that reconnection." 

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