Presented virtually by the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School, the ninth annual Business of Healthcare conference was held on Friday, October 30. This program is produced each year by the Miami Herbert Business School Center for Health Management and Policy. The business school is renowned for its Health Executive MBA, the highest ranked (by U.S. News & World Report), longest running health executive MBA in the region. Aside from opening/closing remarks and scheduled breaks, the conference consisted of three principal segments labeled Keynote Panels:

• After the Pandemic: Building a Better Normal
• Health Care Access, People & Policy, COVID-19 & Beyond
• Diversity & Inclusion: Providers, Patients & Community

The third segment of the program, focusing on diversity and inclusion, was moderated by Henri R. Ford, MD, Dean, Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami. Dr. Ford introduced the topic by reminding the audience that racial disparities in healthcare are “a vexing problem still with us today” despite decades of work to erase the effects of race discrimination in this country. The fact that our nation has not been able to solve the issue represents a moral failure that must be repaired, according to Dr. Ford. He noted that the percentage of blacks and Hispanics in the medical field has been flat for decades. Dr. Ford then introduced the panel which consisted of Rosalyn Carpenter, Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer, Office of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity & Belonging, CommonSpirit Health; Leon McDougle, MD, President, National Medical Association; and Ernest Grant, PhD, President, American Nurses Association.

Dr. McDougle presented himself by advocating for a “robust investment in African American institutions” to reverse the deficiencies. Ms. Carpenter concurred noting that black and brown communities have been affected by the pandemic in disproportionate ways. Dr. Grant insisted that an increase in nurses of color was essential to have the healthcare workforce reflect a more racially diverse nation.

Dr. McDougle echoed Ms. Carpenter’s concern for the disparate effects of COVID on communities of color, noting that the death rate for blacks is twice that of other racial groups. With vaccines on the horizon, there is hope. That said, there is concern that many in the black community are skeptical about vaccines. And the distrust is valid. Ms. Carpenter pointed to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, an American medical research project that earned notoriety for its unethical experimentation on African American patients in the rural South. Both Dr. McDougle and Ms. Carter agreed that once vaccines are approved and distribution begin, a concerted effort by community organizers, church leaders, primary care physicians, the black press, black professional organization and others will be necessary to promote the vaccine to black and brown populations.

The conversation then turned to healthcare equity and how to achieve it. Dr. Grant pointed out that “if you are not at the table, you are on the menu,” to illustrate how important it is for leaders to take an active role. Dr. McDougle asserted that diversity and inclusion benefits society as whole since it drives innovation and is necessary to solve complex problems. Dr. Ford suggested that “Intentionality is key; we can’t just check the boxes when implementing a diversity program.”

The role of artificial intelligence and telemedicine were discussed as potential tools to close the equity gap. But, both Dr. McDougle and Dr. Grant cautioned that a stumbling block is the digital divide. (The idea of the “digital divide” refers to the growing gap between the underprivileged members of society, especially the poor, rural, elderly, and handicapped portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet; and the wealthy, middle-class, and young Americans living in urban and suburban areas who have access. SOURCE:

The Affordable Care Act was also discussed, again in the context of health equity. All of the panelists were in general agreement about the ACA and its role as a racial equalizer. Ms. Carter stated that “The way forward is to improve a far from perfect law rather than overturn it.” Dr. Grant agreed that abolishing the ACA would be “very disruptive.” Dr. McDougle expressed regret that politicization of the issue has resulted in demonization of the ACA and its creators.

The tragic death of George Floyd in May of this year combined with the rampaging COVID crisis — and its disparate effect on black and brown populations — has re-focused America’s attention on race and equity. Both timely and relevant, this discussion was a fitting way to conclude the 2020 program.

Editor’s Note: FHIcommunications covered the first two segments of this program in articles published earlier this month. Click to view: Building a Better Normal (Nov. 9) and Health Care Access (Nov. 19).