LMH develops new strategy to improve health equity

LMH Health recently announced a new health equity strategy, and LMH’s leaders hope it will provide clear ways for staff and providers to emphasize equity in their day-to-day work.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. That doesn’t just involve health care itself — it also entails removing obstacles to healthy living, such as poverty, discrimination and disparities in education and housing.

According to Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health’s most recent Health Equity Report, the Lawrence area still has work to do on health equity. The report shows that racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by social determinants of health, such as lack of access to job opportunities, health care, safe housing and food. Residents with low income are also disproportionately affected.

Over the past several months, Erica Hill has been working on a strategy to help address those problems. She was named LMH’s director of health equity, inclusion and diversity in January, and she announced the plan to the LMH Board of Trustees, senior leadership, clinical leadership and providers in June.

“This strategy aligns with the work already being done to improve health outcomes and create a sense of belonging for LMH Health employees and patients,” Hill said. “Our goal is to directly influence social determinants of health by working with and educating LMH employees, increasing community involvement and investing in upstream solutions to addressing health inequities.”

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What does the new health equity strategy involve? Hill said the main goal is to “operationalize” health equity at LMH Health — in other words, to give staff members and providers ways to advance equity as part of their normal work.

One example of this is the health equity assessment tool, which is used when staff members are discussing a project, making a decision or setting a policy. The tool guides conversation about who will benefit from a proposed change, who will be disadvantaged and what factors could mitigate potential adverse outcomes.

“When making a decision, we need to understand who will be impacted or burdened,” Hill said. “This strategy will help shed more light on those affected negatively and will give us the tools needed to eliminate barriers.”

The health equity advancement strategy is also focused on ensuring an inclusive work environment.

Hill said that equity, inclusion and diversity are not a “box to be checked,” but rather an ongoing and fundamental part of a health care organization.

“Health equity work is fluid,” Hill said. “Advancing health equity is an adaptive challenge, with no clear answers or perfect solutions. However, I’m confident that our health equity strategy principles are an important step in the pathway to get us closer to where we want to go, and who we want to be as an organization.”

LMH President and CEO Russ Johnson also said that equity needs to be part of health care providers’ work every day.

“Health equity is central to our purpose: to be a partner for lifelong health,” Johnson said. “We are making investments in advancing health equity and ensuring we are a place where everyone knows they belong — whether they work here or choose LMH Health for their care, we want them to feel that partnership with us. Health equity should be part of the very fabric of our organization and something we intentionally do every day.”

Hill didn’t come up with the strategy on her own. Many leaders and committees both inside and outside of LMH collaborated with her on the project. That includes hospital administrators such as Sheryle D’Amico, senior vice president of strategic integration, and Colleen Browne, vice president of human resources and talent. The hospital’s Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Advisory Council and its leaders, Verdell Taylor, TaNiqua Ward and Julie Black-Opilo, also contributed to the plan’s development.

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At the hospital, Hill is the co-leader of the Health Equity Advancement Team, alongside Dr. Lynley Holman of Lawrence OB-GYN Specialists. Hill also leads the Community Health Equity Advocacy Council, a group hosted by LMH that advises on the hospital’s health equity strategy.

In addition to these roles, Hill is the director of finance and strategic initiatives at the LMH Health Foundation. She said it makes sense to connect her work in health equity to the work she does with the foundation and the hospital’s donors.

“The foundation has evolved to be more equity-centered, and it makes sense for me to do this work in tandem,” Hill said. “Working at the foundation gives me a unique perspective: an awareness of the needs in our community and the areas our donors are passionate about supporting.”

Over the past few years, Hill and her colleagues have worked to increase education and programming about health equity, inclusion and diversity at LMH Health and around the community. One program she’s particularly proud of is the LMH Health Leadership Academy, which gives high school students an opportunity to learn about health care careers. It is funded in part by the LMH Health Foundation.

“The Leadership Academy is a comprehensive mentorship program that creates a learning culture and promotes personal and professional development for our scholars, all while being surrounded by caring adults who want to see them succeed,” Hill said. “The purpose of the academy is to provide an opportunity for students to learn and explore. Often times, it’s a lack of opportunity — not ability — that is the barrier to success.”

Hill has been with the LMH Health Foundation since 2013, and in 2019 she was named to the “40 under 40” class of young professionals by the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy, an organization dedicated to professionals who encourage charity in health care organizations.

“I’m honored to work in this capacity,” Hill said. “In order to move toward greater health equity, inclusion, and diversity we must work together, and that’s the most exciting part about this new position — intentionally collaborating with LMH Health colleagues and community partners to ensure everyone in our community has the opportunity to be as healthy as possible, and feel a sense of belonging when they come to LMH Health.”

— Jessica Brewer is a social media and digital communications specialist with LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Journal-World’s Health section.

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