Diversity, inclusion efforts aim to improve health care quality

Earlier this month, Dr. Jabraan Pasha joined LMH Health for a second time to share his workshop “Unlocking Implicit Bias.” Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. It is developed over the course of a lifetime and can be harmful when personal attitudes and feelings influence health outcomes of others.

Pasha said his interest in implicit bias did not come from recognizing everyone else’s biases, but from recognizing his own biases and their potential impact on his patients.

“To be completely honest, I became interested in implicit bias because of certain attitudes and biases that impacted the care I provided,” he said. “I always try to provide the best care possible, but I started to analyze to see if my biases impeded the care I was giving.”

He quickly realized implicit bias is not something a few people have, but something everyone has. Pasha began to use his skills as a teacher to think about how he could teach in a way that isn’t accusatory but incorporates humor, without losing focus on what impact implicit bias has on every community.

“I think we are at a critical pivot point in society where institutions don’t have to feel so uncomfortable about getting behind it,” he said. “This is an opportunity for everyone to get on board. These conversations about implicit bias are important because it is based on stereotypes and attitudes that have been embedded in our minds. We can bust down some shame and guilt because having implicit bias doesn’t mean we are bad people. Talking about this can allow walls to come down and conversations to continue.”

Pasha acknowledged that these conversations are hard to have. They aren’t often easy topics to discuss and can bring up discomfort when talking with co-workers about implicit bias, and even more so with strangers. However, these conversations are vital both inside and outside health care organizations.

“There is a lot of good research that shows the importance of diversity and inclusion inside and outside health care organizations,” Pasha said. “Diversity and inclusion make a workplace better. Wellness is better when there is a diverse institution and it has been shown that a diverse group actually takes better care of their patients because the communities we live in are diverse.”

Erica Hill, finance and operations director for the LMH Health Foundation, which provided funding for Pasha’s workshops, said studies consistently recognize the role of implicit bias in worsening health outcomes, increasing health care costs and exacerbating health disparities.

“Anyone interacting with patients should receive training on implicit bias centered on helping learners to identify their own biases and manage them,” she said. “We must recognize how unconscious bias and the lack of diversity affects patient care.”

LMH Health’s Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (IDE) strategic plan, led by IDE manager Verdell Taylor, includes five main principals: recruitment and retention; education; patient care and experience; community partnerships; and health equity. Hill said the purpose of this plan is to intentionally cultivate an environment of inclusion, diversity and equity, and there are multiple people who make the LMH Health equity strategy possible.

“LMH Health has an Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Advisory Council as well as a community council that provides diverse perspectives from the community,” she said. “The LMH Health IDE council works with this group and uses their insight to identify areas of opportunity and to guide the strategy.”

Hill said the Health Equity Committee, which she co-chairs with Dr. Lynley Holman, a physician with Lawrence OB-GYN Specialists, was created to work with clinical leaders to develop strategies to proactively promote the elimination of health disparities. The committee’s strategy is designed to address disparities in three areas: breast cancer screenings, maternal health and cardiovascular disease

“Equity is not measured in how many conferences we attend, books we read or how many strategic plans we have,” Hill said. “It must be measured by its reflection in our practice.”

She continued by saying that health equity means increasing opportunities for everyone to live the healthiest life possible, no matter who we are, where we live or how much money we make. Achieving health care quality or eliminating barriers to health isn’t possible without health equity. Reducing health inequities is important because health is a fundamental human right, not a privilege.

“We simply cannot stop at achieving equity — we must remove barriers,” Hill said. “Now, realistically, we are not going to be able to remove all barriers, but we can remove some by collaborating with community partners, looking at everything we do, every decision, every policy through a lens of equity and before making business decisions as community leaders ask ourselves, ‘Who are we leaving behind?'”

The LMH Health Foundation also has a strategic plan that emphasizes equity. Hill said through her work with the foundation, she sees first-hand how philanthropy promotes health equity in our communities by bringing people and organizations together.

“We have donors in our community that are willing to stand in the gap, break barriers and improve access to care for others,” she said. “One great example of this is the Help and Healing Fund. This is a program that provides funding for patients experiencing financial barriers. We have expanded this program beyond providing medication and equipment. Now, we also address additional social determinants of health.”

Philanthropy also creates upstream solutions — one example is the LMH Health Leadership Academy, a paid mentorship program that makes a lifelong impact on the youth in our community.

“This program is a testament what we can achieve when we work together,” Hill said. “I’m proud to be on teams that are actively working on making LMH Health, and the community, a place where everyone feels a sense of belonging and has the opportunity to live a healthy life.”

–Jessica Brewer is the social media and digital communications specialist at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of Lawrence Journal-World’s health section

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