I recall vividly my five years as a member of the AHA Board of Trustees and ultimately becoming the Chairman of the Board in 2011. Many of the experiences were memorable, but two presentations to the field stick out: My convocation address in the spring of 2011 titled “Redefining the H” and a reflection speech six months later before our winter Board meeting.

Looking back, the messages were quite paradoxical. The convocation address had a transformational tone regarding our hospitals’ changing from a sickness care orientation to focusing on the health of their respective communities. From inpatient to ambulatory care (thinking outside of the bed), to home health, to school-based clinics, to managing schools, to addressing food deserts, etc. At that time, it was forward thinking and optimistic that hospitals could be at the forefront of addressing social and economic determinants of health and really move the needle in improving the health of our communities.

About six months later, my “reflection” to the AHA Board of Trustees was a little more sobering. The theme was the more things change – the more they stay the same. I spoke of my Northwestern graduate school learnings in 1975 concerning issues of cost, quality and access to care. I also spoke of my earlier experiences as a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention trained venereal disease epidemiologist and the valuable lessons learned in working with a variety of people inclusive of all economic, racial and educational demographics. Those skills learned, fortified my abilities to work successfully with multiple underserved constituents at Cook County Hospital, Hennepin County Medical Center and Truman Medical Centers for over 40 years.

The culmination of these experiences point to this conclusion in July 2020:

As a field, we need to do much more than “redefine the H.” Many of our African American communities are worse off than before our last national racial crisis in the 1960s. We cannot afford “the same old thing” again over the next 50 years. We don’t need another call to action – we need action! A good place to start is by our health care systems attacking social and economic determinants of health and racism ZIP code by ZIP code, community by community and city by city in pursuit of better communities and a better nation. We can do better.

To learn more about The Bluford Healthcare Leadership Institute, go to: www.blufordinstitute.org

John Bluford is a former Chairman of the AHA Board of Trustees. He is the President and Founder of the Bluford Healthcare Leadership Institute – a professional development program with a mission to eliminate health disparities among minority and vulnerable populations by cultivating a pipeline of culturally competent underrepresented scholars for leadership roles in health care.

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