Catholic health giants join 'equity pledge,' commit to fighting systemic racism

Catholic health systems around the U.S.—including giants like CommonSpirit​​​​​​​ and Ascension—committed to address systemic racism by taking concrete steps to reduce health disparities, it was announced Thursday.

More than 20 health system members of the Catholic Health Association (CHA) joined the Confronting Racism by Achieving Health Equity commitment so far, officials said. Those health systems employ nearly half a million people across 46 states and the District of Columbia and care for almost 4 million patients annually, officials said.

The announcement comes amid increasing awareness about glaring social healthcare inequities highlighted by the global pandemic as well as a national conversation about systemic racism. In December, dozens of corporations and organizations joined the OneTen commitment to hire a million Black Americans over the next decade. Among healthcare organizations that took the pledge are Cleveland Clinic, Humana, Intermountain Healthcare, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic and Merck.

The CHA board of trustees developed the pledge and asked CHA members to join. As part of the pledge, officials say health systems committed to actions that would prioritize equity in their response to COVID-19, examining and changing their hiring, promotion and retention practices, forming stronger partnerships with communities of color and advocating for policy changes that address the root causes of racism.

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“We believe that everyone has the right to be healthy,” said Lloyd Dean, president and CEO of CommonSpirit Health, in a statement. “Health equity is impacted by factors inside and outside of our facilities—from access to housing, food and transportation to culturally competent clinicians who have common lived experience. It’s time for us to come together to solve these problems proactively and holistically."

Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health, for example, announced a 10-year, $100 million partnership with the Morehouse School of Medicine in December. They said the partnership was aimed at providing more opportunities for Black and other underrepresented physicians and improve COVID-19 testing, care delivery and vaccine allocation for vulnerable populations.

In another example, Irving, Texas-based CHRISTUS Health formed a minority executive fellowship program, among other efforts, to address inequities.

“Catholic health care providers have long been a beacon of hope for our communities,” said Ernie Sadau, president and CEO of CHRISTUS Health, in a statement. “Yet again, we are called to lead by example, to take an active role in health equity within the walls of our health care ministries. We understand that equity is not just something we do ‘out there.’ It starts ‘in here.'"

In order to hold itself and members accountable, CHA plans to provide updates on the commitment progress annually and will focus on diversity, equity and inclusion during its annual member meeting in June.