By Ana Pujols McKee, MD, Executive Vice President, Chief Medical Officer, and Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer
Since COVID-19 vaccines first became available in December 2020, an alarming trend has surfaced. Despite being hardest hit by the pandemic, Black and Hispanic populations have been underrepresented in early vaccination efforts.
However, targeted public health campaigns have helped states like Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina and Texas begin to close the gap.
Failing to recognize and treat these health care disparities like the quality and safety concerns they are results in preventable morbidity and mortality. Providers and leaders who begin to implement solutions to these problems, like what’s currently being done with COVID-19 vaccination, can make their organizations safer and more trustworthy for patients of all backgrounds and identities.
First Ever Health Care Disparities Award Designation
In a new award program, The Joint Commission and Kaiser Permanente aim to recognize organizations that have addressed health care disparities. The Bernard J. Tyson National Award for Excellence in Pursuit of Healthcare Equity will acknowledge health care organizations and their partners that led initiatives that achieved a measurable, sustained reduction in one or more health care disparities.
The Joint Commission and Kaiser Permanente’s award honors the legacy of Dr. Tyson, late CEO and chair of Kaiser Permanente and renowned champion for health care equity. Whether an improvement is made at a small ambulatory clinic or large hospital system, all organizations have an opportunity to be recognized for their efforts to improve disparities.
Initiatives at all types of health care organizations and addressing all disparities (including but not limited to race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status) are eligible to apply. The Tyson Award jury panel will examine the data submitted for proof of improvements when evaluating an application.
According to the Association for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) 2019 National Healthcare Quality & Disparities Report:
- For about 40% of quality measures, Black Americans and American Indians/Alaska Natives received worse care than white Americans.
- For around one-third of quality measures, Hispanic, Asian and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Americans received worse quality care than white Americans.
- Residents of poor households had less access to care than people in high-income households for 90% of access measures.
- Male physicians are less likely to recognize heart attack symptoms in their female patients compared to male patients, causing potentially deadly delays in care; because of this, women face lower overall survival rates.
- Women physicians and surgeons still earn less overall than their male colleagues.
These statistics show there is still work to be done. All health care organizations have a responsibility to address the disparities their patients face. Disparities are a quality and safety issue, and like patient falls or health care acquired infections, we can implement processes to improve them. We hope that recipients of Tyson Award inspire other organizations to implement initiatives addressing health care disparities in the future.
There is no cost to apply, and the award application is open now through July 8, 2021. For more information, please visit the Tyson Award webpage.
Ana Pujols McKee, MD, is the Executive Vice President, Chief Medical Officer, and Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer of The Joint Commission. In this role, Dr. McKee focuses on and develops policies and strategies for promoting patient safety and quality improvement in health care and leads The Joint Commission enterprise in meeting its goals of improving diversity and inclusion