Fireside Chat: Prioritizing Equity and Inclusion in Times of Crisis and Uncertainty

Dr. Ronald Copeland, senior vice president of national diversity and inclusion strategy and policy; chief diversity and inclusion officer at Kaiser Permanente (Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Hall of Fame), spoke with Carolynn Johnson, CEO of Fair360, formerly DiversityInc during the Top 50 event on May 5, 2020 about how the healthcare company is prioritizing equity and inclusion during COVID-19.

The lethality of COVID-19, combined with its global impact and the lack of a treatment has devastated hundreds of countries. The U.S. is particularly hard-hit, but as an integrated healthcare system, Kaiser has worked to provide the highest quality care during this time.

“Our approach has three major areas of focus: what we are doing with our patients, what we are doing with the communities we exist in and, most importantly, what we are doing with our workforce,” Dr. Copeland said.

Kaiser is also focusing on the research aspect of vaccinations to try to create cutting edge solutions, as well as accelerating their deployment of telehealth access, including using video, texting and phone calls to connect patients with doctors.

This type of access is particularly important for nonwhite communities who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has “shined a bright spotlight on the brokenness of our public health systems,” Dr. Copeland said. “And for our members we provide care to … we’ve seen this devastation and disproportionate impact. What we’ve been doing is taking on the issues of disparities, understanding root causes, social needs, structural racism, social-economic disconnections and the impact this has had on people in terms of their jobs, exposure to risks [and] segregated living conditions in urban areas.”

Dr. Copeland also spoke about the major challenge facing the healthcare sector right now: whether or not sufficient data is available in order to be ensure care is brought to the communities who need it the most. Dr. Copeland said in some of areas where Kaiser has a large Black and Latinx population, the company has seen increased exposure to the virus in those patients.

But Kaiser is actively participating in safety net organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), multiple hospitals and organizations that work in housing.

Dr. Copeland announced the company is “making many investments in affordable housing and creating support with community leaders to put people who are homeless into hotel spaces to protect them during this period.”

Furthermore, Dr. Copeland said Kaiser Permanente is focused on solutions and best practices for fighting bias and stigma, as well as COVID-19 and keeping their employees healthy. In addition to providing employees with childcare and workplace safety, the company has implemented an application-based resource that offers immediate access to mental health support, which includes coaching for employees about the implications of stigma and xenophobia.

“Make people understand this is a time for compassion and ethical approaches,” Dr. Copeland said. “People have to feel that their voices can and will be heard. We’re a large, decentralized organization … Everyone has got to identify themselves as a leader. In the moment they witness any evidence of stigma, xenophobia or bias in action, we have to rely on each other to counteract that … Our employees have said many times how grateful they are that all their leaders are speaking up, modeling the importance of calling these things out.”


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