Minnesota's health care CEOs join forces to address state's disparities

eight people smiling on zoom
MPR News host Angela Davis moderated a roundtable discussion about addressing Minnesota's racial disparities in health care on Jan. 6, 2021. From top left are Davis, Hennepin Healthcare CEO Jennifer DeCubellis, Allina CEO Penny Wheeler, HealthPartners CEO Andrea Walsh, Children's Minnesota CEO Marc Gorelick, Fairview Health Services CEO James Hereford, Blue Cross and Blue Shield CEO Craig Samitt and Jakub Tolar, dean of the medical school and vice president of clinical affairs at the University of Minnesota.
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After George Floyd’s killing last May, hundreds of nonprofit and business leaders signed onto statements like this one condemning the incident.

The leaders of some of Minnesota’s most prominent health care companies have acknowledged Minnesota's persistent racial disparities, especially in health care, and have vowed to do more to address them.

On Jan. 6, MPR News host Angela Davis moderated a discussion among seven health care CEOs about why it's been such a struggle to close the gaps and what has to happen to make progress.

“I think one of the learnings for all of us as leaders is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. If the conversations are comfortable, it probably means we’re not pressing hard enough,” said Andrea Walsh, the president and CEO of HealthPartners.

“Trust isn’t about showing up and saying, ‘We’re here to help. We’re here to solve the problem,’” she said. “Trust is about showing up and saying, ‘What’s the problem you’re wanting to solve? And how do we define the problems together? And then how do we define the solutions together?’”

IN FOCUS Disparities and distrust in BIPOC health care

One potential solution in addressing disparities — the use of telehealth visits — accelerated during this pandemic year, said James Hereford, president and CEO of Fairview Health Services.

“But it also exposes disproportionate access in a different form. Not everyone has a smartphone. Not everybody has a reliable internet connection,” he said.

Several of the CEOs said they’re trying to listen first and then take action. Hennepin Healthcare has held listening sessions with community members to find out how to make emergency care more responsive to people’s needs, said Jennifer DeCubellis, the organization’s CEO.

“What we need to own is making sure health care shows up for our community to heal that trauma,” she said, adding that Hennepin Healthcare is changing its EMS uniforms after hearing from the community that they looked too much like police officer uniforms.

The importance of diversifying staff, leadership and the students pursuing health care careers was mentioned by several of the panelists. And taking action on microaggressions in the workplace and responding to racism wherever it happens is also key, said Marc Gorelick, president and CEO of Children’s Minnesota, which has implemented a new type of safety and learning report around dignity and respect.

“So if a member of our staff, either themselves is a recipient of or a witness to incidents not consistent with being treated with dignity and respect, microaggressions being an example, they have the ability now to file that as a safety report and we follow up on those as we do any other safety reports,” he said.

Guests:

Jennifer DeCubellis is the CEO of Hennepin Healthcare.

Marc Gorelick is the president and CEO of Children’s Minnesota.

James Hereford is the president and CEO of Fairview Health Services.

Craig Samitt is the president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

Jakub Tolar is dean of the medical school and vice president of clinical affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Andrea Walsh is the president and CEO of Health Partners.

Penny Wheeler is the CEO of Allina Health.

Use the audio player above to listen to the program.

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