In recent days, protestors have filled the streets of our country and our community. Their faces covered by masks to protect against the novel coronavirus, they began by expressing pain, rage, and grief over the unequal treatment of Black Americans by police and the justice system. Over time, though, their protests have turned attention to racial inequities in other areas of American life, including health care.
As we continue to provide care for our patients, we’ve been asking some hard and at times uncomfortable questions. Why is the pandemic disproportionately affecting people of color? How is HealthPoint trying to remedy these inequities? And as we look to a post-pandemic future, how can we do better?
Breaking Down the Barriers to Care
"Look at the history of Community Health Centers and HealthPoint", says CEO Lisa Yohalem. Born of the civil rights and social justice movements in the 1960s, they exist to provide access to care for all, flattening the curve between those who receive good health care and those who don’t.
“The way we do that,” Lisa says, “is by breaking down barriers—the barrier of not having insurance, the barrier of not having money, the barrier of language differences, and the systemic racism that continues to disproportionately separate communities of color from access to resources and opportunities that assure better health outcomes.”*
Another way that we ensure this happens is through effective representation. HealthPoint’s and all CHC’s boards must be comprised of at least 51% people that receive care from our clinics and represent our diverse communities.
Some of the barrier-breaking solutions of the future will build on practices that have been part of HealthPoint’s operations for years. Advocate on the local and national level for access to health care. Establish and retain a staff that comes from the communities we serve. Provide training to help us recognize and fight unconscious racial bias. Cultivate ties within the racial and ethnic communities we serve. Meet patients in settings where they are most comfortable.
And always, focus on integrated care.
Health for the Whole Person
Having a team that’s comprised of providers who can address a patient as a whole person—behavioral and dental health included—is a model of care that makes sense not only from a medical standpoint, but also from an operational one.
“We’re an organization that always wants to move toward care that looks at all needs,” says Kathrina Westby-Sharman, HealthPoint’s vice president of patient experience & operations. “What’s different is how we meet needs may not always be with a clinic visit.”
The pandemic, along with its stay-at-home orders, has highlighted the necessity of reaching people outside of clinical settings. HealthPoint has traditionally offered services such as Healthy Home, which serves patients with multiple chronic conditions in their own homes. We also join with local community agencies to provide health screenings and other care within communities. And with the rise of COVID-19, we’ve established telehealth visits. All are models worth examining in post-pandemic times.
“In many ways, our services can come to our patients,” says Kathrina, “and they can come to our patients in a planned way so that we’re using resources more effectively.”
Reasons for Hope Amid the Struggle
"There will always be challenges", Kathrina cautions. But amid the sadness and stress of the last few months, she sees some reason for optimism. “It does give us a chance to reimagine optimal operations,” she says. “Not how do we go back, but how do we take advantage of this time and move to something better.”
Similarly, it hasn’t always been easy, but Lisa has found hope for improved health equity in days packed full of protest and pandemic. “The good news is that there’s an increased awareness of the issue—100-fold,” she says, then quickly revises herself.
*Update, August 24, 2020:
We want to acknowledge a misstep in language and clarify HealthPoint's position. In an earlier version of this post, we stated that barriers to receiving good health care "might come from the color of your skin." HealthPoint regrets this original statement had the impact of further pathologizing people of color rather than naming the true source of oppression. We recognize that we can't change what we don't name. Having black or brown skin is not the reason why many people have disparate health outcomes. Unequivocally, the barriers to health care access for people of color are a result of systemic racism. HealthPoint is committed to being an organization that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion. We understand that words have power and will continue to do the work so that our language and our commitment to anti-racism are more closely aligned. We appreciate the valuable input of our colleagues and community in this journey.