Last month, the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) recognized two health systems - Novant Health in Winston-Salem, NC and Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, CA - for their work in providing inclusive and equitable care. 

"Both organizations take a system approach to embed equity and use quality improvement to identify, target, [and] reduce disparities," CMS said. 

For example, Novant Health found that after being diagnosed and discharged with pneumonia, African-American patients were readmitted at a 4 percent higher rate than other patient populations. The health system formed a multidisciplinary team that included various clinicians, managers and analytics' professionals, as well as a transcultural health manager and chief diversity and inclusion officer, and enrolled the group in a disparities leadership program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Together, the team reduced the disparity by 50 percent. And, in the process, it created a blueprint for how to reduce care discrepancies elsewhere.

Kaiser Permanente - which received the AHA's Equity of Care Award in 2017 for its use of data-driven initiatives and the electronic health record to target health disparities - used this same inclusive mindset to initiate the Hypertension Program Improvement Process in its operations. From 2009 to 2017, Kaiser's team reduced gaps in blood pressure control rates across racial and ethnic groups, including among African-American Medicare members ages 18 to 85. 

The health system managed data to learn about health outcome differences, upgraded its clinical practice guidelines and offered educational resources to staff. It also maintained strong community partnerships, which helped the system bring care directly to populations - such as offering blood pressure checks at beauty salons and barbershops. As a result, it increased controlled hypertension in its African-American Medicare patients from 75.3 percent to 89.6 percent, which the system says has "saved the lives of thousands of people."

Both health systems are among the more than 1,500 organizations that have signed the AHA's #123ForEquity Pledge. The effort, which began in 2015, asks organizations to take action to accelerate progress in the following areas: 

  • increase the collection and use of race, ethnicity, language preference and other socio-demographic data; 
  • increase cultural competency training; 
  • increase diversity in leadership and governance; and 
  • improve and strengthen community partnerships.

A number of leaders in this work will convene in Chicago June 28-29 and share strategies at the Institute for Diversity and Health Equity's National Leadership Conference. The conference will feature leading experts and thought leaders discussing trends and best practices in diversity in leadership, equity, data driven strategies and cultural competency. 

Cynthia Washington is the interim president and CEO of the Institute for Diversity and Health Equity - an AHA affiliate. For more on the Institute, visit