Column | Healthcare Reform

Hypersensitivities only serve to suppress honest equity conversations

Column | Healthcare Reform

Hypersensitivities only serve to suppress honest equity conversations

Recently, I was speaking to a group of mostly young adults — 20- to 30-year-olds of various races and ethnicities — where I was discussing the finance management role in health equity. And if I’m being honest about it, I struggled through it.

While I’ve worked hard to educate myself and stay in tune with the racial storylines and dialogue of the past year, I unexpectedly found myself afraid of making a mistake. Afraid of not using the most current and trendy vocabulary. Afraid my words would be misunderstood. And sadly, now I’m afraid my words didn’t convey the thoughts I hoped to impart about very complex, very real issues that exist in society, and yes, healthcare.

It will come as no surprise that as a former CFO, I’m a data-driven guy. And I know the data around the racial disparities in this country — from education to criminal justice to employment to wealth to health, and so on. When it comes to healthcare finance, I have no problem articulating what I see in the data. Right or wrong, I speak my mind. Yet when it comes to discussing racial equity, even within the context of my own industry, it’s hard for me.

The racial equity conversation needs to be had in this country, but like any debate, the hypersensitivity on either side can make it difficult. It can push people further left or right of issues, galvanizing perspectives or even suppressing much-needed discussion altogether. Well-intended people need to be able to have this conversation without the fear of attack for not using the phrase of the day.

For the past year, I’ve been urging people to stop, listen and care when it comes to issues of race. A fine example of this approach is right on the cover of this month’s hfm magazine. Tammie Jackson is taking over as the first Black chair of HFMA. That she’s doing so at this particular time is, as she says, “serendipity.” While Tammie has a full slate of healthcare industry issues to address in 2021-22, equity is certainly on the list. And in my experience, there’s not an easier person than Tammie with whom to speak with about these issues. She listens without judgment and thoughtfully offers her perspective. A conversation with Tammie always feels like a perfectly safe space.

My hope is that together we can instigate a civil, enduring discourse within HFMA this year. As this conversation unfolds, I hope we can all remember that people are putting themselves in uncomfortable positions, but hearts and minds are in the right place. I hope we can focus more on intent than buzzwords and politics. I hope we can normalize this conversation, so it doesn’t perpetually feel like treading on thin ice.

And my greatest hope is that you can put aside that same trepidation I felt and boldly join our conversation. 


The HFMA Community has launched a new group dedicated to discussing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Join the conversation at


About the Author

Joseph J. Fifer, FHFMA, CPA,

Is president and CEO, HFMA, Westchester, Ill.

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