The pandemic reminds us how fragile life is. More than 100,000 lives have been lost in an astonishingly short period of time. The term “new normal” is now often used to describe the impact of COVID-19 on our lives, society and institutions. At the same time, a nationwide spotlight has been shone on something that isn’t “new,” but all too “normal” – racism and police brutality leading to the loss of black lives.
There is a stronger connection to these two issues than many Americans may know.
These recent killings in the black community due to structural racism are compounded by the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. It is beyond time to stand up for black lives and for justice.
Racism is a public health issue. Social structures and institutions often perpetuate inequities. Fear, distrust, anger, frustration and stress all impact mental and physical health outcomes. Clearly, there is a great need for authentic change.
At Blue Shield of California, we also have been thinking about what steps we and our nearly 7,000 team members can take to solve this challenge. Starting at the top, our President and CEO Paul Markovich joined 35 other CEOs in the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association to sign a pledge to support dedicated action to achieve meaningful change.
Even before COVID-19, we recognized that there was a problem with insidious systemic inequities that needs to be addressed in order to reimagine health and transform our healthcare system into one that is worthy of our family, friends, and communities we serve.
We created a Health Equity Steering Committee, a cross-functional work group that has set out to collect information about what our organization has been doing to promote equity and lead efforts to further embed equity principles into all of our activities.
The committee has created an emerging framework that builds on the efforts already in the works. They are:
Dismantle systemic racism, bias, and discrimination: We will begin with providing learning opportunities for our entire workforce to enhance our individual knowledge and organizational ability to drive equity efforts.
Solicit and integrate diverse perspectives: We need to authentically engage and lift the voices of those closest to the problem, including from our own diverse employee base.
Reduce inequities: The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting how California’s diverse population continues to face persistent and unjustifiable inequities in conditions that result in poorer health for populations who have experienced bias and unfairness based on their race or ethnicity. For example, the data shows:
- Hispanics in California make up nearly 60 percent of COVID-19 cases, but represent approximately 38 percent of the population
- African-American Californians comprise more than 10 percent of fatalities due to COVID-19, but are just 6 percent of the state’s population
At Blue Shield, we are working to transform health care by creating a system worthy of our family and friends and sustainably affordable, and where everyone has fair and just opportunities to be as healthy as possible. Our efforts will include enhancing and harnessing meaningful data to identify and prioritize gaps in order to reduce those inequities – both among our members and within the communities we serve.
We are lifting up our shared values and using them as a guide for what comes next. We are working to ensure that every strategy, program, policy and process leads us to that goal.
As we transform the health care system, we are reimagining and redesigning our future with deliberate intent, honesty and courage to promote health equity so that all of us can flourish. Taking a health equity action lens approach is essential and together, we can make this a reality. This is our Health Reimagined.
Kimberley Goode is Senior Vice President of External Affairs at Blue Shield of California and Peter Long is Senior Vice President of Healthcare & Community Transformation at Blue Shield of California. They are co-chairs of Blue Shield’s Health Equity Steering Committee