(l to r) Michele Richardson, Chair-Elect Advocate Aurora Health System and John W. Daniels, Chair Emeritus Quarles & Brady, Chair of the Advocate Aurora Health Board of Directors, and Sponsor of the Black Directors Health Equity Agenda
By John Daniels, JD
In a year with so much significant news, the formal establishment of the nonprofit Black Directors Health Equity Agenda, Incorporated “BDHEA” has been a significant development that will have a long-term significance on health equity.
I am honored to co-sponsor the group alongside Caretha Coleman, Former Board Chair of Dignity Health, and Michele Richardson, Chair-Elect of Advocate Aurora Health System. The BDHEA has convened directors and thought leaders from premier health care organizations with the objective of eliminating health disparities that disproportionately affect Blacks in America.
According to a 2016 study published in conjunction with the National Institute of Health, “…[a]frican Americans remain the least healthy ethnic group in the USA, a somber legacy of years of racial and social injustice and a formidable challenge to equitable health care for all. Systemic causes of suboptimal black health require equally systemic solutions.” Allan S. Noonan et al., Improving the Health of African American in the USA; an Overdue Opportunity for Social Justice, Public Health Reviews, 2016 37:12. COVID-19 has underscored these unacceptable health disparities and has resulted in a disproportionate number of deaths among Blacks in America. As the country strives for equality, these inequities must be addressed.
Coleman believes that “[while] some of the issues associated with health care are more visible and obvious, the world has moved much more quickly to systems and technologies which are both complex but have a real-world impact. It is important that we [BDHEA] stay ahead of the curve and be engaged in using this moment to create sustainable change.” Richardson believes that access to information is vital to addressing health inequities, and consistent data collection and analysis practices must be integrated into health care delivery models to truly address disparities.
The BDHEA was informally launched five years ago and is prepared to meet the challenges needed to unify efforts and develop consistent approaches to reducing health equity gaps. The BDHEA recognizes that even with relevant data, the leadership of organizations impacting the health of diverse communities must be more reflective of the populations they serve to bring about systemic change that will impact these disparities. There is little doubt that the number of Black directors on large health system boards has a tremendous impact on the way the systems prioritize health equity. The BDHEA seeks to increase the number of Black directors in board rooms and provide those directors with appropriate tools and resources (in the form of a “playbook”) to help their systems advance best practices and improve health equity among the Black population.
The group is working to develop data-driven solutions, focusing on short-term goals, such as making sure that the COVID-19 vaccine is distributed equitably, and on complex structural issues that require a uniform lift, such as making sure that artificial intelligence, in its various uses in health care, doesn’t have a disparate effect on Blacks. To this end, the BDHEA has formulated a business case for eliminating health disparities that has been endorsed by those in the public and private sector, including payors and governmental officials.
In addition to increasing the number of Black directors and developing a playbook for directors, the BDHEA seeks to address health inequities by assisting with the following:
- Developing a resource repository so directors get information that typically is not publicly available;
- Sponsoring discussion-to-action forums addressing critical issues with national leaders across health care organizations, including Health and Human Services, payors, and lead scientists on vaccine development;
- Partnering with medical schools to increase development of diverse health care providers; and
- Convening a national symposium in the fall of 2021 with thought leaders from across the nation to address the state of health equity.
I am excited about the formation of the group, and have been inspired by the dedication of the committee members. I truly believe the BDHEA, in conjunction with other nonprofit agencies and health agencies, can move us closer to creating true health equity for the Black community.
John W. Daniels is the chair emeritus of national law firm Quarles & Brady, the chair of the Advocate Aurora Health board of directors, and is a sponsor of the Black Directors Health Equity Agenda.
This piece was co-authored by Shamika L. Mazyck, an associate in the Quarles & Brady Indianapolis office whose practice focuses on healthcare regulation, accreditation and compliance. Among other roles prior to beginning her legal career, Mazyck worked in an acute hospital setting, managing occupational health and safety programs focused on meeting OSHA and the Joint Commission (JCAHO) compliance requirements.