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An opioid epidemic. High smoking rates. Health care provider shortages. Indiana faces serious public health challenges. Side Effects Public Media provides in-depth coverage of these issues and more.

Indianapolis Hospital Groups Pledge To Fight Racism As 'Public Health Crisis'

Protests in Indianapolis and other cities over the summer called attention to widespread inequities in America.

Three of Central Indiana’s largest health systems want people to understand that racism is a public health crisis. And it's preventable.

In a joint statement, the leaders of Community Health Network, Eskenazi Health and Indiana University Health say they want to go on record in pledging to do more to end health disparities and inequity. 

“Most of health is determined by things that have nothing to do with what we do in healthcare,” Eskenazi Health CEO Dr. Lisa Harris says. “It’s about opportunities, food, access to good  nutrition, to safe places to exercise.”

The leaders say inequities such as poverty, inadequate housing, criminal justice bias and food deserts worsen the health of Black and Latinx communities.

“It’s not just our job to take care of people when they’re sick, but that it’s really our job to help them stay well,” says Dennis Murphy, president of IU Health.

He says the work of inching toward equity is not new. This year, for example, IU Health raised its minimum wage for workers and is aiming for a livable wage of at least $15 an hour. 

“If any of us as leaders aren’t fulfilling these obligations, we’re personally accountable,” he says. “If I’m not pushing this agenda, I’m probably not the right person for this job.” 

In an interview with Side Effects Public Media and The Indianapolis Recorder, the leaders were asked whether their board members reflect the community's diversity. They said yes, but added that more Black, Latino and indigenous people of color should be added to the ranks. 

Murphy says the hospital system’s governing board will be presented with benchmarks and be responsible for checking in with leadership about them. 

Community Health Network president and CEO Bryan Mills says of patients, “How do we better know the person that’s in front of us? How do we better know their circumstances?” 

The health systems, which have worked closely together to address the COVID-19 pandemic, have set a number of goals. Among them: 

· Address and reduce discrimination among team members, patients and guests.

· Improve the demographic makeup of organization leaders, with a particular focus on people of color.

· Improve the equity of care by regularly measuring, monitoring and improving the care provided to underserved populations.

· Identify, research, understand and address racial disparities in healthcare access and outcomes.

· Work with other community organizations to develop, endorse, and provide support for creative solutions to social determinants of health, especially affordable housing, food security and workforce development.

The statement has been posted on each of the health systems’ websites. 

This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health.