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Kaiser Permanente CEO Greg Adams on addressing health equity: ‘We can’t rest on our laurels’

Gabriel Perna | October 20, 2021

 

Discussion: A Perspective on Health Equity  

Discussion Leaders:    

Greg A. Adams, CEO and Chairman of Kaiser Permanente 

Mandy Cohen, MD, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) 

Topics/quotes:    

On lessons learned from COVID 

Adams: “As a country, our public health system, our public health gap is something I’m very concerned about. While we were able to kind of step up and handle the surge and handle the volume, we didn’t provide care. That’s compounding the problem we’re dealing with in regard to the surge. We had people who didn’t come in who had heart attacks and strokes and we’re dealing with that now…the ability of our health systems to maintain the load is something we’re going to have to address.”  

Cohen: “We had challenges with health disparities as we went into COVID and I think COVID has exacerbated those challenges. Importantly, this last year brought a racial justice movement focusing new light on these issues, not just in health care, but across the board.” 

On addressing systemic racism within a health care organization 

Adams: “Ten years ago, a strategic decision was made to focus on health care equity and disparities. The work was done primarily around [Health care Effectiveness Data and Information Set] measures, and we did really great work with breast cancer screening, colorectal cancer screening, medication adherence, etc. But we weren’t looking at outcomes or looking at outcomes in terms of race and ethnicity. During COVID, during the social unrest, there was a call for us to step up and do something.”  

On working with the community to address inequity   

Adams: “I was on a panel right in the middle of the social unrest and the beginning of COVID. And there was an individual that had been a founder of the “Black Lives Matter” movement that was on the panel. And I talked about us and our history and our diversity and equity. We’ve got a great history. And in a really thoughtful way she didn’t call me out, but she did. She basically said, ‘What we’ve done in the past isn’t good enough. What are you doing now?’ And so, the reason we took the time to really examine, and listen was because it was really about the fact that we can’t rest on our laurels.” 

Adams: “I think we live in a time when organizations’ approach and view of action is not necessarily aligned with where our communities are today. And communities are not as forgiving of its process, and it’s going to take time versus the expectations that there is more immediacy.”  

About the Author

Gabriel Perna, Senior Manager, Digital Content

Gabriel Perna is the Senior Manager of Digital Content at Health Evolution. He brings 10+ years of experience in covering the intersection of health care and business. Previously, he was at Chief Executive, Physicians Practice and Healthcare Informatics. You can reach him via email at gabrielp@healthevolution.com or on Twitter at @GabrielSPerna