Lawrence hospital’s new summer leadership program for high schoolers targets health disparities

photo by: Ashley Hocking/Journal-World File Photo

The emergency entrance to Lawrence Memorial Hospital is shown in this Journal-World file photo from Jan. 26, 2018.

Three Lawrence high school students will pilot a leadership program this summer at LMH Health that takes aim at big issues of health disparities and inequities.

A partnership with the Lawrence school district, the LMH Health Summer Leadership Academy intends to build a workforce that includes those from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.

“Everyone was encouraged to apply, but preference was given to students of color” and those from lower-income households, said Erica Hill, finance and operations manager for LMH Health Foundation, LMH Health’s equity advocate, and creator and director of the leadership academy.

“When you look at the health disparities report locally and then even nationally, race and income matter when it comes to a person’s health, and when it comes to people being able to live their best life,” Hill said, referring to the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department’s 2018 Health Equity Report. “So again, this program creates that equity piece that’s necessary and that’s needed.”

photo by: Contributed Photo

Erica Hill

The Journal-World has reported that among findings in the health department’s report, Douglas County residents who earn less than $35,000 a year are 6.6 times more likely to be uninsured and to be diagnosed with asthma. In addition, the percentage of births with a low birthweight is more than double for African American mothers compared with those of other racial and ethnic groups.

A news release from LMH Health announcing the summer program also says that “though health indicators such as life expectancy and infant mortality have improved for most Americans, some minorities experience a disproportionate burden of preventable disease, death, and disability compared with non-minorities.”

People of color are also traditionally underrepresented in health care professions. A July 2004 report by two Johns Hopkins University professors for The Commonwealth Fund states that Hispanics, African Americans and Native Americans represent more than 25% of the United States population, yet comprise less than 6% of doctors, 9% of nurses and 5% of dentists. That affects health outcomes.

“There is a strong link between race and ethnic concordance (and language concordance) and the quality of patient-physician communication, other health care processes, and some patient outcomes,” the report says. “This link makes it all the more important to increase ethnic diversity among health professionals, enabling ethnic minorities to have improved access to care and better experiences with health care.”

Hill said she started researching the program in the fall. She looked at other hospitals that have implemented similar programs successfully, “looking at this through an analytical lens, then customizing it to what would work best for our community hospital and our school district.”

The students will receive one-on-one mentorship and shadow three members of the hospital’s senior leadership team, including President and CEO Russ Johnson, Vice President and Chief Information Officer Michael Williams, and Brian Bradfield, who oversees respiratory therapy, sleep lab, pharmacy, imaging services and more in his role as associate vice president of ancillary services.

“You can be a doctor, you can be a nurse, but there’s just so much more to health care,” Hill said. “… The point of the program is to introduce a menu of options to students in different career trajectories that health care has to offer.”

Hill said the students may come in with a good idea of what they want to do with their careers in the long term, but they could also be introduced to a new area of interest.

“They will have the opportunity to see health care, see how it works, how this department works with that department,” she said, “and hopefully there’s another department that never crossed their minds.”

The program is a paid internship that runs eight weeks, plus a one-week break, starting Monday. The pay is a “critical equity piece that was very, very important, too,” Hill said. She declined to say how much it will pay.

“Providing paid internships to students from low socioeconomic backgrounds speaks to the kind of measurable action steps we want to see as a product of our equity work,” Superintendent Anthony Lewis said in the hospital’s news release. “Just as our district wants to grow its own teachers, other businesses and organizations in our community should be thinking about building a pipeline from our schools to their future workforce.”

Anthony Lewis

Participants will work about 24 hours each week, Hill said. At the academy’s conclusion in the first week of August, the participants will give presentations reflecting on their experience and what they’ve learned. They’ll receive a $500 scholarship to put toward postsecondary education if they complete the program successfully, Hill said.

Another focus of the program is workforce readiness, so students will learn how to dress professionally, send professional emails and the like, Hill said. It will also include volunteer opportunities.

“We’re really going to be an advocate for giving back to your community, and different ways you can do that,” Hill said.

The students will take some field trips, including to the health department and to Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, Hill said.

The students selected for the program’s inaugural summer — Ana Tosta and Mollie Coffey, of Lawrence High School, and Amani Austin, of Free State High School — all just completed their junior years. The program targets both rising seniors and recent high school graduates.

Hill said it’s too early to say whether the program will expand next year, and if three is the “magic number” that gives students the best experience, she wouldn’t want to diminish that.

“I am hopeful that if other organizations see that we do something like this at the hospital, then other organizations and businesses in the community might follow suit and do something similar as well,” Hill said.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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