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DEI & Health Equity: More than Good Intentions

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Earlier this year, we at Jarrard published a special report on health equity and diversity, equity and inclusion work within healthcare providers. Separately, but roughly in parallel, a team at our parent firm, The Chartis Group, in partnership with the National Association of Health Services Executives, developed Leading While Black, a research piece on similar issues that includes a health equity maturity model for healthcare organizations.

Together, those pieces cover a huge amount of ground in some of the underlying issues, challenges, and also possible solutions for both delivering more equitable care to patients and also developing a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Now, with a bit of time having passed since publication, we wanted to revisit the topic and bring together the teams that produced them for some combined insight.

In this conversation, we spoke with LaTonya O’Neal and Mark Wenneker, MD, lead authors of the Chartis report, and James Cervantes, who helps lead our Kaleidoscope DE&I work here at Jarrard. You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript below.

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Read the Transcript

David Shifrin: Let’s jump in. And Mark, tell us just about some of the high-level structural challenges that healthcare organizations are dealing with today in terms of DE&I and structural racism.

Mark Wenneker: The first answer I would give around this is that healthcare organizations, and the healthcare industry, has been aware of ethnic and racial disparities in healthcare for decades. This isn’t a new problem. In the early part of my career, I published an article demonstrating that Black patients were less likely to receive important cardiovascular procedures than white patients. That was in the 1980s. That wasn’t the first piece of research that showed that. Just last week, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an entire issue on the challenges of disparities in healthcare access for ethnic and racial minorities. So this is not a new problem. To answer your question more directly, I think there’s a greater awareness now that healthcare organizations have around the importance of addressing inequity. Most healthcare organizations have a mission to serve their communities. And if they’re not addressing the reality that there are portions of their communities that are not receiving the same kinds of care, then they’re not fulfilling their mission.

LaTonya O’Neal: When we talk about the challenges that healthcare organizations really need to overcome to move the needle on health equity, there are five things to think about. One, it takes more than just good intentions and a stated purpose.

Two, moving the needle toward health equity has to start at the top with the organization’s leadership.

Three, intentional cultural change is essential. Organizations need to expect and empower every employee to take an active role in addressing health disparities.

Four, promoting health equity needs to take place both within the healthcare organization and in the community.

And five, organizations need meaningful data to inform, measure and facilitate change.

David Shifrin: LaTonya, talk about the importance of going beyond just good intentions, right? You know I think, I hope, that everyone would agree that good intentions aren’t enough. But what does that actually mean? What qualifies as good intentions and what qualifies as the work that needs to be done?

LaTonya O’Neal: When you talk about good intentions, you can’t just take steps only because it’s the right thing to do. Just because your heart’s in the right place doesn’t mean you get credit. I think the distinction is that the actual work that has to be done should be at the foundation of the organization’s mission.

And that has to be done… the work that has to be done there is really challenging, and it’s also broad. So implementing a single, specific program to address a certain issue is great, but you can’t stop there and declare that the work is done. It’s really an ongoing, continuous process. And some of the clients I’ve worked with have struggled because they do want to do the right thing, but there’s a vast gap between wanting to do the right thing, trying to do the right thing and actually doing the right thing.

So I think having good intentions is certainly a great place to start, but you have to put the steps in place to ensure that, one, the actions are going to be meaningful; two, that they’re going to be measurable; and then three, that they’re going to be sustainable.

James Cervantes: I think too what you’re referring to, LaTonya, is really cultural change, right? So it’s not just change that happens in one department or with one program or with one person who’s leading one initiative. I think what we’re seeing, and it sounds like you are as well, is that to really move the needle on health equity and become a more diverse, inclusive organization, for many of these systems, it requires a level of cultural change that, honestly, many to this point haven’t been willing to take.

So it certainly starts at the top, but it’s also finding a way to engage every employee, every leader, to have an active role in that cultural change and that journey in becoming better—for each other and for their community.

Mark Wenneker: I would follow up what James just said. LaTonya and I recently wrote an article that was published in The Governance Institute magazine that emphasized the criticality of leadership commitment and intentionality. So, good intentions have to translate to a commitment from the top, from the board, and a set of plans that are actionable and have resources behind them. And if I’m talking to an organizational leader who’s asking me about what they do or what they should do around addressing inequities and disparities, that would be the first question: do you have your board on board and do you have a plan?

David Shifrin: Let’s talk a little bit about what you’re talking about, Mark, with the specific plans and how you build… It’s the, what is it? The SMART framework? The… Of course now I can’t think what the acronym stands for. Measurable…something: Measurable, Actionable, Timely.

What does the S… anyway… Specific! So there have to be specific goals and plans, and then also the overarching communications and mindset, and really change management that has to take place at almost a human level. And so between our organizations, I think we’ve got a lot of those bases covered in how we operate in the work that we do with clients.

But talk back and forth a little bit about how you merge those two things together, specifically as it relates to DE&I work.

LaTonya O’Neal: Change management is tremendous. It is the thing that I think, no matter the initiative in an organization, that’s required. If you don’t have a good change management process in place, you’re probably not going to be as successful as quickly in whatever that initiative is—but certainly when you’re talking about diversity, equity and inclusion, because everyone’s coming in with their own thoughts, ideas, sentiments on diversity, equity and inclusion.

You’re asking folks to align to a common idea, a common culture that speaks around the idea that you’re not going to allow inequities to occur within your organization as employees, but also that you’re going to try to resolve those inequities within direct patient care. And so I think it’s a bit of a challenge in at least some of the organizations that I’ve spoken with, it’s… even if you set up that structure, without the change management component of it, you run the risk of that idea or that initiative being abandoned because there aren’t any steps in place to make sure that you have that sustainability.

If your three highest admitters are not on board, what’s the consequence to the organization if they decide they don’t want to practice in your organization anymore. I mean, that’s an extreme example, but those are the kinds of things that I think minimize the effectiveness of some of the programs that might be out there even with well-intentioned folks, is that if these folks are not on board with it, then we must abandon it because we can’t survive without them.

James Cervantes: I think that’s a really important point; it’s having that initial buy-in, and that may take time for some organizations to build. And then beyond that, it’s really creating the awareness about what we’re doing and why, and making sure that everyone understands what our intentions are.

That we have buy-in from the board, we have buy-in from our leaders and here’s why we’re doing it. I think what makes this so challenging as well is that race and inequity is personal for many, right? We’re not talking about rolling out a new electronic medical record. We’re talking about deeply rooted issues that are very personal, very complex, very sensitive.

And so where we’ve seen some organizations struggle is just the way that we talk about it in identifying the problem. And so, one thing that we’ve done for a health system is just develop a language word bank so that we have a common definition set around how we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion across our health system and with each other so that we can all agree on something. And that, we’ve found, really built some momentum and created a more safe place for those conversations to happen.

Mark Wenneker: One area that I think healthcare organizations… after there’s been a verbal commitment made at all levels, that they really can quickly start working on is measurement. You can’t change what you haven’t measured, and healthcare organizations can readily look to see whether there’s diversity in their workforce, to have that data.

They can begin if they’re not already looking at whether there’s differences in how they treat patients. The kinds of care that they received. Their access to services. Whether there are differences by racial and ethnic background. Those are things that can be looked at. And that’s where you can start and identify those areas where there might be the greatest opportunity.

LaTonya O’Neal: You’ve got to start by defining what “it” is, right? Before you even talk about putting in measurement you’ve got to know what it is you’re measuring. And I think that that’s a challenging thing to do. And I think if you don’t start with defining what it is you’re trying to solve for, and then establishing those metrics that you’re going to measure yourself up against, it’s just a lot of busy work.

David Shifrin: One more question before we get into some of the specific examples. In thinking about both the internal and external work… so, advancing this work inside the organization and developing a more diverse workforce and getting people rallied around change in diversity equity and inclusion, and then also doing things that are going to improve patient care and the relationship between the provider organization and the community that it serves.

I hope nobody would see those as two separate initiatives. But I think it can be difficult to really know how to bring them all together. So how do you all think about that as sort of a continuum under the same umbrella?

Mark Wenneker: David, while they all really fall under the umbrella of addressing disparities in care and access, they really are separate strategic initiatives in my mind. So, the activities and focus and resources that need to address social determinants of health are very different than what needs to get done to address access to a healthcare organization. And I think both are important. So, healthcare organizations need to spend time thinking about who their community partners are and what their role is in supporting the community’s efforts to address social determinants of health.

It may be purely resources. Money. Or it may be something more direct like providing staffing or support. But it’s a very different type of work.

James Cervantes: I would agree with that. I do see them as separate, but I do think they are interrelated. Especially for healthcare organizations in more small and rural communities, where oftentimes your workforce is an extension of the community. So, how you’re talking about equity, where it sits on your strategic priority plan, how it’s mentioned in your vision and values, I think speaks volumes to your workforce.

And what you’re doing proactively, externally, I think, also needs to mirror how you talk about it and how you treat your workforce internally. So I agree a hundred percent, I think they’re separate, but there are connection points because they all sort of ladder up to the same overall vision and values.

LaTonya O’Neal: Yeah, they’re separate but not mutually exclusive.

Mark Wenneker: Yeah, I think that’s a great point, James. Most healthcare organizations are the biggest employers in the communities that they serve. So you really can’t think about that completely separately. You’re absolutely right.

David Shifrin: Well, let’s talk through some specific examples. You are doing this work, you’re researching this. So let’s just kind of go around the room and talk about some of the folks that you see doing a really good job. Some of the unique things that are happening across the healthcare industry and ways that colleagues and peers can kind of take some of those lessons about the things that we’ve talked about.

LaTonya O’Neal: We did a panel. Mark referenced the paper that we wrote some months ago where we were talking about leading while black, addressing disparities in our healthcare communities. We did a panel with some esteemed senior executives from some of the largest healthcare organizations around the country.

And three things that struck me in their talking that I think is a good blueprint for how others might want to try to get at addressing the disparities and also some of the issues around, you know, just racism in general. One individual said, “The best way to know what’s happening in your community is to get out in your community and actually see for yourself what’s going on.”

Part of that could be through board representation, but the other part about that is leveraging the people that work in your organization to help you understand what’s really happening. One example that they gave was they invited one of the nurses to join a board meeting one day, just to talk about what was going on in the community.

And it really made a difference in helping the board understand what the real problems were. The other thing that they mentioned was the measurement, which we’ve spoken about already. That is putting together performance metrics that truly you can measure yourself against in order to know whether or not you’re succeeding or not.

And the third thing that really struck me, it kind of dovetails on the first one around knowing what’s going on in your community. But we had one leader talk about how they’d started creating traveling grocery stores in areas where there were food deserts, right?

So, a lot of the issues that were going on in their particular community had a simple problem of… and I say simple not in that it’s a simple problem but as straightforward a problem of… our folks are not getting the food that they need to stay healthy and to be able to thrive.

And so, they took it upon themselves to create these traveling grocery stores so that those individuals who couldn’t get out and get the food that they needed, they provided that service to the folks within that community. Other stories like that, of being creative about how do we serve our community in the way that our community needs to be served, it’s just very important in order to make sure that we’re actually addressing the root causes of the problems that we’re experiencing.

David Shifrin: LaTonya, keep going on that a little bit, if you would. Leadership recognizes the need to go out and understand what’s happening and what needs to be done. They make the commitment to go out. They go out—whether to the community or inside the organization.

What does it look like practically for a leader to step into that conversation and listen and extract the information that they can then take back and use?

LaTonya O’Neal: You know, it’s a great question. I know that at least with a couple of folks that we spoke with, they talked about how being a trusted leader in the community was one of the ways that they were able to actually even get people to share with them the needs that they were experiencing. And so, I think part of it is being present, being available, and not just coming in to be a speaking head, if you will, is the first way you do that.

And I think that listening to the teams that you have in your organization could be another way of doing that. It’s one thing to think that you’re going to be able to walk around the neighborhoods and knock door to door and have people to just share with you what’s going on. You’ve got to be creative in how you get that information, whether it be surveys, whether it be information you’re collecting when the patient is admitted into your service.

No panels… you’re really getting that real-world feedback. I guess the key point is not to assume that you know what the problem is.

Mark Wenneker: You know, it’s striking to me that a very close corollary of this importance of listening is, who is actually representing your organization to listen? And while I think we need all leaders, regardless of their background to be present—as LaTonya is saying—in the community, it is very important that organizations have leaders that reflect the backgrounds of their representative communities. And that’s not happening enough. Because I think the communities, when they see those leaders that have similar backgrounds, are going to feel more engaged. They’ll have more trust. And I also think the other piece of this around workforce diversity is if you have those opinions and experience brought into your organization, it’s important to also listen to your community and go out.

But having that representative thinking and experience within also helps you understand what needs to be done.

LaTonya O’Neal: And too, Mark, creating that safe space which we’ve talked a lot about in the past, you’ve got to create that safe space where your teams are comfortable enough to even bring those types of ideas forward.

James Cervantes: Along those lines of listening, one thing we did at Jarrard to help facilitate conversations like that—and this was for a large health system out West—is they knew that they wanted to leverage their clinicians and physicians who for the most part their workforce and even members of their communities trusted.

But some of the folks just weren’t sure how to have those conversations, what questions to be asking, how to dispel some of the myths. They have the clinical information, but it’s how you frame it. And so we created a couple of toolkits. One was really for internal ambassadors and clinicians to use within the organization, as they’re in meetings to just address some of the top topics head on and to dispel some of those myths. But more importantly, to your point, Mark and LaTonya, to just be available to answer questions. And to really hear what the concern is from some of these groups that were very reluctant to get the vaccine. And then the other toolkit was really more for community partners. So, how were they able to leverage their community partners to engage in thoughtful conversations outside of the walls of the medical center?

And I think from both of those efforts, sort of in parallel, they saw tremendous uptick in the number of folks that were coming to get the vaccine. And I think they just have a deeper sense of who their community is now in a way that a data point wasn’t able to provide before those conversations.

LaTonya O’Neal: Just to add onto that, we created a maturity model as part of the work that we did earlier in the year as a way to help hospitals take a hard look at themselves. To look in the mirror and say, “Where are we along this continuum of where we want to be to address these disparities and make sure that we are really serving our communities holistically?”

And there are lots of other tools out there that we’ve seen. Actually, through the work that we did with the National Association of Health Services Executives, they’ve got other resources as well. But, I think that’s really important. You’ve got to take a look in the mirror and understand where you are, ask yourself those questions, and be honest about where you really are. And then put a program in place to drive toward where it is you’re really trying to head. I think without that, it again is well-intentioned, but it’s certainly not going to move the needle in a way that’s going to be measurable and impactful.

David Shifrin: Okay. LaTonya, Mark, James, what did we miss? What do you want to chat about?

Mark Wenneker: You know, there’s… the only other thing I was thinking about in terms of topics, was this issue around, is there a business case to be made?

So, in our report, that we did in collaboration with NAHSE, we talked about one of the challenges that healthcare organizations are facing, which is the question about, “How do we invest in these important areas, given the challenges we’re facing financially—most acutely with the pandemic, but certainly in the long term?” And yes, those are real. Those are real issues. However, it’s important to understand that the societal impact of healthcare disparities from a financial standpoint is significant. A Kaiser Family Foundation report estimated that disparities contribute almost $100 billion dollars in excess medical costs to our society and $42 billion in lost productivity.

Now that’s not to say that healthcare organizations can always capture those savings by making investments, but I think it’s important that they in their planning think through how can they benefit financially in addition to morally, their moral commitments, as they proceed with this planning work.

LaTonya O’Neal: You know, Mark, that’s a great point demonstrating the return on the investment. So, even in our consulting work, there are a lot of things that are the right thing to do that are good for the organization but might not have a return on investment. When you think about health disparities, the readmission rates that happen with patients who are not able to care for themselves at home, or when you think about extra admissions just because patients are not able to make their regular physician visits and things like that.

I mean, there is not enough data yet. I think that this is again back to where we need to really create some good measurement vehicles. But the return on the investment of making these programs part of your organization’s internal fabric and culture is significant. And in my mind, at least in working in the revenue cycle space like I do, you think about admissions, hospital care and then the billing that happens on the back end. I’m sure that there could be a direct correlation between these programs and patients do in your organizations on a regular basis.

James Cervantes: I would add, too, going back to our point earlier about your workforce, the labor market is as tight as it ever has been. And so, how are you honoring your commitment to health equity and retaining the talent and bringing in top talent? And I think more people, especially younger generations, are driven by and inspired by organizations that do what they’re going to say that they do and fulfill those commitments to their community and to solving for health equity. So, I think there’s sort of the workforce element as well, from a business imperative.

Vaccine Case Study: Understanding and Encouraging the Reluctant

Aerial view of a city

The pandemic has rocked California. And Cedars-Sinai provides care for over a million people annually across 40 locations in the incredibly diverse Los Angeles area.

Today, as vaccine distribution is underway, Cedars-Sinai is faced with a common challenge: how to encourage vaccination among Black and Latino communities.

We asked Dorian Harriston, associate director of brand strategy, to explain how Cedars-Sinai is tackling this challenge. The answer lies in the organization’s longstanding commitment to community partnerships.

photo courtesy of Cedars-Sinai

Jarrard Inc: The issue of vaccine hesitancy among the Black community is well-documented and something many providers are struggling with right now. What does it look like in Los Angeles?

Dorian Harriston: Vaccine hesitancy appears to be as prevalent here as anywhere else – especially in Black and brown communities.

From my experience, the level of education, income or job doesn’t factor into whether an individual is hesitant to get the vaccine. It’s a deeply rooted effect of historical medical mistreatment that has caused distrust. I hear the same things from family and friends as I do on social media and even colleagues in healthcare: People are afraid, and the conspiracy theories and misconstrued testimonies posted online are not helping. This is a serious issue.

How is Cedars-Sinai addressing the hesitancy?

We’ve prepared an overall strategy to strengthen our relationship with these communities. It starts by partnering with organizations that cater to the needs of Black and brown communities. We hope to be a true partner, amplifying their messages and providing support – and not just monetary support – to increase and sustain resources while conducting outreach to show commitment to our community.

What does that strategy look like in practice?

Initially, we’re doing a series of virtual talks and engaging faith, community and healthcare partners to discuss the issue in various formats. We’re enabling our clinicians and researchers to answer FAQs and attempt to ease fears by responding with facts.

We have to be honest about barriers that cause hesitancy to address them and help determine culturally relevant and satisfactory solutions. Transparency, honesty and commitment are paramount to changing longstanding thoughts and behaviors. We need to regain the Black community’s trust, and we must prepare for a long-term commitment.

Talk more about the role of your team members.

It’s essential that we take as much care internally as we do externally. We’re creating internal conversations around vaccine hesitancy and trust, taking the time to tackle this initiative collectively because it affects all aspects of the programs and services we provide as an institution. Employees must be ambassadors that carry factual and positive messages to their circles of influence. It will take a village to make headway.

How is it going?

We’re just getting started. The first step is to find out what Black and brown communities want and need. We’re doing this through our partners and stakeholders. Partnership is the key to expanding outreach and ensuring the message is reaching every audience within these communities. We need to communicate with influencers – whether that’s the internal family circle (caretakers responsible for multi-generational households, children that bring new information and technology, etc.) or external relationships (faith leaders, clinicians, community and civic leaders and friends). Organizations have provided what they believe this demographic needs for far too long without doing the research to back it up. We want to be sure we are addressing needs in a way that helps build trust and establish a consistent path to preventive care.

Healthcare is local. How do you, as a large system with a significant geographic footprint and diverse patient population, present messages that will resonate with each community while remaining consistent across the system?

The pandemic has forced our team to review our current practices for efficiency and align messages across channels. I see us working together more as a team due to COVID-19 than before the pandemic. Although we have a lot more meetings, being able to divide and conquer and form special project teams has allowed us to refine our messaging and reach a larger audience while promoting significant but often overlooked areas – in particular, research, education, and community engagement. These areas create a trifecta with clinical care vital to defining needs, breaking down barriers to vaccine acceptance, and promoting health equity. We also want to ensure that Black faculty and staff are included and visible so that these communities know there are people who look like them working on their behalf.

What advice do you have for other providers? Are there best practices that that apply across the board?

  1. It’s important to align strategy around your organization’s health equity and diversity and inclusion goals. Creating tactics is easy, but it’s essential to have a definitive strategy that speaks to who the organization is and provides a roadmap to inclusively provide for your community’s health.
  2. Ensure that your communication is honest and transparent. There’s no shame in admitting you don’t have a piece of information or don’t know something. Also, remember that one message may not be sufficient. There are varied audiences within each targeted demographic, and having a single message isn’t enough. Having multiple messages and communications vehicles could be the difference between being heard or ignored.
  3. Before beginning any outreach, know that there are no quick fixes. If your organization isn’t willing to invest budget, time and resources, don’t proceed. To battle the distrust and inequity that Black and brown communities have experienced, you must consistently engage and work to understand unique needs, health disparities and cultural norms. Have BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) on your team or as advisors to vet advertising and messaging and provide communication vehicles such as unique media outlets and preferred ways in which the target demographic seeks and digests information. One wrong message or misstep could injure an already fragile relationship with communities of color.
  4. When crafting a call to action, ensure you have the capacity and resources to engage and execute in a manner that will make it easier on your audience. Right now, individuals are afraid, anxious, angry and burned out. Anything that appears to be unclear or complicated will cause frustration, dismissal and possibly a negative perception of your organization. Ensure that your strategy allows for flexibility and resources that will help everyone within the community – even if you cannot provide those services.

First in Line? No, Thank You

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Why Your Vaccination Communications Must Attune to Justified Reluctance of Black Populations

Nine months into the pandemic, it’s clear that Black people are suffering disproportionately from COVID-19. Now, on the verge of emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s vaccine, providers and government agencies are working urgently to determine who will receive it first. As plans are laid to prioritize and execute vaccine distribution, healthcare providers are well-served to step back and consider how they will address the reluctance of their own staff and their patients of color to get the vaccine.

Assuming Black healthcare workers and patients will want to be first in line for the vaccine is a flawed approach, according to Rick Smith, president and CEO of United Way of Ross County in Ohio, vice president of Advancement and Engagement at the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College, Warren, PA, and a seasoned communications strategist who’s served in senior roles at several prominent health systems.

Smith maintains that when it comes to being first in line for a vaccine, some African-Americans hear this: “You’re going to be the first because, once again, we want to experiment and see how it works. Once we’ve seen the results and tweaked it, then the rest of the population will get their vaccine.”

To that, their reaction is “No, thank you,” Smith said.

“That’s what society has engrained in that segment: We’re your guinea pig,” he added.

As healthcare provider organizations begin to develop their vaccination communication strategies, they need targeted and particular outreach – internally and externally – to reach and better serve Black populations who have been harmed by health researchers and providers in the past.

Jarrard Inc.’s national consumer survey revealed striking disparities in who is likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine, once available.  The results showed that 36 percent of Black respondents reported being extremely or very likely to get a vaccine compared to 57 percent of white respondents. Black respondents also reported lower levels of trust in hospitals, nurses and doctors.

Those results didn’t surprise Smith or Dr. Pam Oliver, Novant Health’s executive vice president and physician network president in Winston-Salem, N.C. and a practicing OB-GYN.

“Our African-American and Latinx communities are extremely vulnerable to disinformation campaigns because they don’t trust who we would say they should go to,” Oliver said. “They may not trust physicians. They may not even trust us, as African-American physicians, because now we’re part of ‘the system.’”

Smith said these disparities are driven by “a history of mistrust,” – alluding to decades of appalling mistreatment and atrocities the medical community has inflicted upon Black people in the U.S., particularly with experimental treatments.

Henrietta Lacks. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Cincinnati radiation experiments. These outrages are contemporary, modern tragedies, Smith said.

“A lot of people want to put their heads in the sand, saying that was so long ago and it doesn’t mean anything now. But these are real issues, and we’ve got to start to combat them head-on,” he said.

Further, these infamous examples don’t even account for everyday experiences Black men and women encounter within our health care system. For example, studies have demonstrated that Black women are often not listened to when reporting signs of complications and one-quarter of Black women reported disrespect and abuse from medical professionals in the hospital.

As healthcare provider organizations enjoy overwhelming trust among the public and a politicized battle over the COVID-19 vaccine looms, there’s work to do to overcome barriers to trust among minority groups. To do so, healthcare organizations should bear in mind:

Educate yourselves first to repair trust

Smith and Oliver agree that deeply educating leaders and internal teams is a crucial first step. “A public, open acknowledgement of where the opportunities are and the history is important,” Oliver said. Smith agreed: “There has to be a coming together to first be educated on the history of mistrust and abuse that one body of people have had most often at the hands of others. There is a mistrust, and here’s why.”

Communicate internally first

Doctors aren’t the only ones who interact with patients. Front desk staff, nurse aides and lab techs also need to be consistently prepared with your organization’s message on COVID-19 safety and vaccines – as they also interact with patients. To gain the trust of all patients related to vaccines, “a thought-out, thorough internal communications process needs to happen with these folks first,” Smith said. Oliver added that people should feel empowered to openly ask questions.

Don’t go it alone

While doctors do enjoy the highest level of trust among the general population (53 percent) and among the Black population (45 percent), provider organizations need to push beyond their own spokespeople – meeting people where they are through partnerships with community organizations and groups like historically black fraternities and sororities, Smith said. For instance, one of Jarrard Inc.’s large health system clients works with a network of 80 churches to reach underserved populations. People who are already trusted in the community should be visible and vocal, Smith said. As we say at our firm, “The messenger is just as important as the message.”

Start communicating early and transparently

While it’s true that no one knows when a vaccine will be safely and widely available, health systems need to start building trust and credibility on this issue now. For Oliver, that means being open and candid with internal teams about how vaccines were evaluated and identified and about any potential risks. Even if you don’t have all the answers – no one does! –transparency and openness are key. “If we wait to start communicating when we have a vaccine, it’s too late,” Smith said, adding that systems must proactively devote extra effort to reaching underrepresented communities.

Make a real commitment to meaningful action

To foster trust, Smith said, “People need to see themselves reflected in the organization.” “When African-American patients come into the room and see no one who looks like them telling them the benefits of the vaccine – there’s going to be a hesitancy,” Smith said. All organizations will benefit from a concentrated effort to diversify their workforces at all levels of the system. When it comes to regaining the trust of marginalized communities, “We can’t just tell people they should trust us because we have their best interests at heart,” Oliver said. “We have to find ways to show it.

About the national consumer survey

In partnership with Public Opinion Strategies, we conducted a national consumer online poll of 1,101 adults between July 31 through August 3. The demographics of the respondents included a representative sample of our nation in terms of gender, region, urban/suburban/rural. This was the second survey conducted in response to COVID-19 with the first occurring in April of this year. Both surveys were designed to assess the lay of the land for providers by measuring public sentiment on topics including telemedicine, federal funding, mask wearing, vaccines and provider trust.

About Kaleidoscope

At Jarrard Phillips, Cate & Hancock, we recognize the power of diversity in shaping perspective, generating awareness and leading to long-term sustainable change. This pertains to our own culture, as well as the work we do on behalf of our clients, most of whom serve diverse communities. Through Kaleidoscope, we hope to use our gifts to do good to drive toward action, broaden perspectives and be more inclusive. We acknowledge that as communicators we are better and our work is stronger when we consider all backgrounds and perspectives. We deeply value diverse viewpoints reflective of our communities and believe that only by seeking out and learning from these diverse voices are we able to perceive the world through the eyes of others. We will use our words, wisdom and resources to help our clients build a better healthcare community for the populations they serve and the teams delivering care, all while striving to eliminate racial disparities and being inclusive of all.

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