Hospitals and health systems are working every day to improve the patient experience and eliminate health disparities. But this work cannot be done in silos. Achieving health equity requires contributions from all of us – providers, payers, community-based organizations, public health advocates, employers and local, state and federal partners. 

That is what makes today’s announcement from AHA’s Institute for Diversity and Health Equity (IFDHE) and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois an exciting development. We know that good ideas do not drive change unless accompanied by testing, learning and action, and this collaboration on health equity builds on learnings from AHA’s #123forEquity pledge to move us toward results. Program funding will support efforts at 13 hospitals that focus on maternal and child health, pediatric asthma, adult diabetes, breast cancer and place-based geographic disparities, including rural access to care. 

By testing this approach to provider-payer collaboration, we gain actionable intelligence that will better equip the field to address health equity in their communities. This work also requires a glide path helping organizations where they are and get to the next milestone in their journey to advance diversity, inclusion and health equity.

This new grant opportunity is just the latest example of provider-payer collaborations to advance equity. With support from the Aetna Foundation, IFDHE last year launched the Hospital Community Cooperative, a national program dedicated to closing gaps in health equity, with the recognition that most factors impacting our health take place outside the medical system. The program challenged 10 AHA member hospitals located in diverse communities across the country to address one or more goals of the #123forEquity pledge in the areas of housing, transportation and food access, among others. Cigna also has been a partner with hospitals and health systems on achieving equitable, high-quality care, and was the first payer to collaborate with the AHA on the pledge. 

In order to achieve health equity, hospital and health system leadership and governance practices must reflect the needs of the communities they serve. The new initiative will help hospitals and health systems make progress in promoting diversity and inclusion strategies that meet these community expectations. This is the work we have been doing in partnership with the National Urban League and UnidosUS. 

These payer and community partners are among the many to recognize that in addition to being the right thing to do, addressing inequities in the health care system makes business sense as well. A 2015 study found that ending racial and ethnic health disparities could reduce health care costs by up to $200 billion.

The AHA and IFDHE always will serve as a trusted partner to advance inclusive cultures, increase diversity in health care C-suites and help all individuals reach their highest potential for health, regardless of who they are or where they live. And, we will continue to strive to be bolder in our approaches to move resources, policies and practices upstream, empowering hospitals and health systems with tools to ensure equitable health outcomes for the patients they serve. 

More information about this grant opportunity is available here

Jay Bhatt D.O., is AHA senior vice president and chief medical officer

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