More than 700 hospitals have signed onto the AHA’s #123forEquity Pledge to Act Campaign to eliminate health care disparities, the association recently announced.

In addition, the AHA noted that a number of partner organizations have endorsed the campaign, first announced at July’s Health Forum-AHA Leadership Summit.

“To meet the changing needs of their communities, hospitals and health systems are working hard to make sure that every individual receives the highest quality of care,” AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack writes in an AHA News column. “To achieve that goal as our nation becomes increasingly diverse, it is imperative that we redouble our efforts to identify and eliminate disparities in care.”

The campaign seeks to build on and accelerate the efforts of the National Call to Action to Eliminate Health Disparities launched in 2011 by the AHA and other partner organizations. It focuses on increasing the collection and use of race, ethnicity and language preference data; cultural competency training; and diversity in leadership and governance.

The campaign asks hospital leaders to pledge to achieve those three equity aims within the next 12 months; provide quarterly updates on progress to the AHA and their boards; and share their success in promoting diversity and health equity with the public.

“The commitment, support and partnership of hospital leaders and boards will be the key accelerator of progress,” says Tomás León, president and CEO of the AHA-affiliated Institute for Diversity in Health Management.

“We can’t transform the health care system without achieving health equity,” he says. “Now is the time for hospitals to accelerate their efforts and get more sophisticated about how they identify disparities in care and develop strategies to address them.”

León believes too many hospitals adhere to what he calls a “checklist mentality.” By that he means, “We’ve hired a diversity inclusion officer, check. We’re collecting data, check. We’re done.”

He says hospitals “need to move from that checklist mentality to baking (diversity and equity) into their strategic planning process and leadership recruitment, and getting a deeper understanding of the diverse patient population and communities they serve.”   

Larry Goodman, CEO of 2015 AHA Equity of Care Award honoree Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, says signing the pledge is a good step forward in improving diversity and inclusion in health care. To accelerate the pace of change, “hospitals need to share what works openly with each other and measure our results,” he says. “And diversity goals should be very broad” to include effective strategies for women, the disabled and veterans.

Among other initiatives, the Equity of Care award cited Rush University Medical Center’s use of technology with a “disparities navigator” to examine different health outcomes among patients and target interventions.

Goodman says the medical center “sometimes struggled” in reaching diversity goals. But it committed to a “more purposeful and strategic” effort with the formation of a Diversity Leadership Council in 2007. The council helped increase diversity across the medical center and university and became a catalyst for community-based interventions that promote more equitable care.

“Projects translate the paper goals of diversity into a set of action plans that have had a significant impact on our community and on us,” Goodman says.