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Column | Leadership

Joe Fifer: Adopting a health equity lens

Column | Leadership

Joe Fifer: Adopting a health equity lens

This year, we dedicated HFMA’s annual Thought Leadership Retreat to the topic of health equity.

That topic could be viewed as a bit of a departure for HFMA, given that our Association is focused on finance. But I strongly believe, along with the majority of our retreat participants, that healthcare stakeholders must use a health equity lens as part of a focus on promoting cost effectiveness of health.

Although I have always supported health equity, I haven’t always been an equity champion. The murder of George Floyd in 2020 was a turning point for me, as it was for many others. The reading I did after that event exposed me to some realities and history I had not known about.

When I started reading about racism, the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. Some of what I learned about was how to talk through these issues with others, even if I wasn’t sure of exactly the right words to use.

I saw something similar happening at our Thought Leadership Retreat.

We had lined up faculty who addressed health equity from many different angles. In the small group discussion sessions that were interspersed with the formal presentations, participants were energized by what they had learned from the experts. The more they heard, the richer and more meaningful the discussions grew, and the easier it became to talk about these sensitive issues.

As one person put it, “I don’t feel like we solved things, but we had good dialogue.” That sums it up well — real change takes time, but it begins with good, open dialogue.

As an immersion event, the retreat offered a unique opportunity to “stop, listen and care” about the impact of racism on our society and our healthcare industry. As I wrote in a message to HFMA members in July 2020, racism is everyone’s issue
to solve.

You may think you don’t have time for this. You may think it’s someone else’s problem. But change won’t happen unless we all take ownership.

There are many opportunities to learn and have meaningful conversations about these issues — it doesn’t require a two-day block of time. Thanks to HFMA’s internal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, our team has benefited from a series of virtual lunch-and-learns with subject matter experts. We know that many healthcare organizations are doing something similar.

As a sports fan, I’m sometimes inspired by the wisdom of athletes. This topic is no exception. Willie O’Ree, who became the first Black player in the National Hockey League in 1958, once said, “Black History month isn’t just in February. To me, it’s every month. It’s year-round.”

That point is well taken. Don’t compartmentalize health equity. Make it part of your every day. Take the time to stop, listen and care. The more people who do so, the more likely we are, as a society, to bring about change. 

About the Author

Joseph J. Fifer, FHFMA, CPA,

is President and CEO, HFMA, Downers Grove, Ill.

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