12 healthcare leaders: The industry problem they would eliminate overnight

Addressing health inequities was at the forefront of many healthcare leaders' minds as Becker's Hospital Review asked them to share one industry problem they would fix overnight.

Here are answers collected this year. 

Odette Bolano, BSN. President and CEO of Saint Alphonsus Health System (Boise, Idaho): Systemic racism really impacts healthcare. It creates disadvantages for so many and doesn't give them the opportunity to thrive and explore their full potential. If we could solve this overnight, we'd be such a different country.

Denise Brooks-Williams. Senior Vice President and CEO of Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System's north market: Inequity in care. I want healthcare equity and the elimination of health disparities among underserved and underrepresented groups. I have seen the pain in my own family of premature deaths due to chronic conditions and lack of healthcare access. I am proud to work in a health system that aligns with my values and desire for equity in healthcare.

As our community has battled the COVID-19 virus, the issue of health equity has been center stage. Henry Ford Health System reacted quickly with support for our most vulnerable patients and deployed resources to provide a safe environment for many who recovered at home. I have the privilege of serving on a governor-appointed statewide task force addressing racial disparities in COVID-19 outcomes. Our work has resulted in improved outcomes for the citizens of Michigan. I am very excited about one initiative which requires health professionals to have anti-bias training. There is much work to be done, but I am encouraged.

Keith Churchwell, MD. President of Yale New Haven (Conn.) Hospital: Addressing and finding solutions for healthcare disparities definitely rises to the top of the list. Nationally, we could have predicted — because of the social determinants of health that fuel our nation's healthcare inequities — that COVID-19 would disproportionately affect minority communities. The fact that we failed to address it sooner — and how unprepared we have been in this crisis — underscores just how much work needs to be done to address those inequities. COVID-19 laid bare an intrinsic problem, but it also created the opportunity to address that problem. We have the opportunity to develop partnerships to solve these inequities, to come together and invest in the educational, nutritional, transportation and economic needs that support health within our communities. If we are to prevent even greater suffering with the next pandemic, we have to take this opportunity to develop pathways of care and processes that will create greater and broader distribution of healthcare resources.  

Joan Coffman. President and CEO of St. Tammany Health System (Covington, La.): An issue that I am passionate about is increasing access to quality healthcare, particularly in my home state of Louisiana. Louisiana has ranked near the bottom of U.S. rankings in resident health metrics including disease rates, obesity, childhood poverty, smoking and violent crime, which are all factors in determining which states are the healthiest. It is an ambitious goal, but addressing the most critical health needs of our population through preventive care and early intervention would improve the quality of life for many of our residents. 

Conor Delaney, MD, PhD. resident and CEO of Cleveland Clinic Florida (Weston): The challenges of staffing across the Florida region and the nation. We hear about this for nursing all the time, but this is a problem for many job types, as people leave healthcare because they are burned out. Caregiver staffing is something we have to work on as a society to keep healthcare for our communities strong.

Bill Gassen. President and CEO of Sanford Health (Sioux Falls, S.D.): Many of those we serve live in rural areas. Continuing to increase access to high-quality care in rural areas is what keeps me up at night. 

The farmer in Ellendale, N.D., battling cancer deserves access to expert oncologists just as much as someone living in a densely populated urban city. For too many people living in some of rural America, healthcare may be out of reach — too far away for families and their children. We are committed to transforming the healthcare experience for those living in rural areas, bringing world-class, affordable and seamless care to people whenever and wherever they need it. 

My promise to those we have the privilege to serve is that their care won't be limited by their ZIP code.

Vedner Guerrier. CEO of Memorial Hospital Miramar (Fla.): I'd eliminate the stereotyping, bias and prejudice that creates healthcare disparities and keeps underserved and underrepresented communities from having better healthcare outcomes.

Rich Liekweg. President and CEO of BJC HealthCare (St. Louis): I would eliminate the inequities and disparities within the American healthcare system. We see it here in St. Louis as we do in every urban center and rural community across the nation. There's much we're doing in St. Louis to address this. We're proud to be part of Greater St. Louis, a new collaborative that brings together business and civic leaders in the region to create jobs, expand inclusive job growth, improve St. Louis' global competitiveness and improve the overall health of the region. We are also part of the St. Louis Anchor Action Network, a newly announced regional partnership designed to eliminate inequities. This commitment goes beyond the four walls of our hospitals and the clinical care we provide. It means being a partner with other businesses and institutions in the community that are providing housing, educational opportunities and jobs. As the largest employer in the region, we have a responsibility to create jobs for those most underserved and to use our spending and purchasing power to support local minority and diverse communities and begin to bridge the gap that has divided us for so long.

Michael Mayo. President and CEO of Baptist Health (Jacksonville, Fla.): Access — closing the gaps of care and social determinants that limit access. I liken this to the quote by Desmond Tutu: "There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they're falling in." We as healthcare providers must go upstream to assist people in their health before they reach a critical state.

Cynthia Moore-Hardy. President and CEO of Lake Health (Concord Township, Ohio): Addressing health equity by providing the highest level of health and wellness to those in our community regardless of their physical, social, economic or educational status. Lake Health is a community hospital system. It has always been important to me to lead Lake Health in the pursuit of improved health and wellness for everyone in our community. That requires collaboration in a wide range of partnerships, programs and services to meet community needs, including hunger relief programs; opioid abuse and recovery; behavioral health services; school-based education and resource centers, services, and clinics; senior services; partnerships with local employers to help control healthcare costs; programs supporting fitness; and more.

Jaewon Ryu, MD. President and CEO of Geisinger (Danville, Pa.): Fragmented care. We can better manage the health of a patient when we address their social needs, coordinate their care longitudinally` or even bring services into their homes. By breaking down silos — among different care teams, among patients and providers, among payers and providers — we can focus on a more holistic view that can yield the best outcomes and experience. We're continually looking for ways to do this at Geisinger. Our senior-focused primary care clinics, 65Forward, are a great example of this. In partnership with our health plan, members 65 and older can access a comprehensive suite of wellness, social and clinical services, as well as longer appointments that can help them with all their needs — physical health, mental health, fitness or social needs. We can connect them with the right solution. And yet, it doesn't stop there. They can also socialize with others, take an art class, work out and more. It truly is removing barriers to better health.

Mike Slubowski. President and CEO of Trinity Health (Livonia, Mich.): Removing inequities and barriers to quality healthcare and social services. There are so many barriers — especially for those who are poor and underserved. The link between healthcare services and social influencers of health requires drastic transformation. Addressing structural racism and inequities is critical. The ability to afford and obtain health insurance and cost of care, just to name a few. In addition, we need to shift from a provider-centric mindset to a patient/member focus. Our Trinity Health brand promise is to listen, partner and make it easy for those we serve. We are making progress but have a long way to go to fulfill that promise. If there was something I could fix overnight, it would have to be making sure that I could help every person in our country receive the quality, culturally sensitive care and social services they need in a way that's affordable and easy to navigate.

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