IT HAS BEEN THREE YEARS SINCE the COVID-19 pandemic collided with the Black Lives Matter social-justice movement that erupted following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed Black men and women at the hands of police. Like a receding glacier, the upheaval that followed exposed a scarred landscape littered with the shards of decade upon decade of racial and ethnic injustice.
Three years, and there is so much yet to be done to heal the deep wounds and address, overturn and dismantle the systemic racism and widespread discrimination that have been a tragic feature of this country since its founding. The events of the past three years provoked the consciousness and opened the eyes of our organization. UCLA Health is working hard to right these endemic wrongs. While our initial efforts have been directed inward to build a highly inclusive and supportive environment for faculty, staff, patients, trainees and students, we are focused broadly, too, on advancing equity and justice in terms of access to health care, community health and overall well being.
This is our new frontier.
No longer can we conduct business as usual. The leadership of UCLA Health understands the moment that we’re in and embraces the need for change and our responsibility to do more. To achieve true health equity, UCLA Health has to reach beyond the walls of our hospitals, clinics and community offices to lay the foundation for a significant presence within all the communities of Greater Los Angeles to ensure that all of our neighbors have a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.
But exclusively focusing on how we provide care is not enough. Research tells us that 80% of health inequities is due to factors outside the scope of the day-to-day care we provide. Economic stability, housing, nutrition, education, community connection, access to technology — the social drivers of health — are the broader contributing factors of true health and wellness.
UCLA Health is a large and influential institution, but addressing these expansive societal issues is not something we can do on our own. To advance our goal of supporting the well being of our communities, we now are part of the Healthcare Anchor Network — a national alliance of more than 70 leading health care institutions working in partnership with community-based organizations and social-service agencies to address root causes of economic and racial inequities that create barriers to health and wealth for people in under-resourced communities.
“ECONOMIC STABILITY, HOUSING, NUTRITION, EDUCATION, COMMUNITY CONNECTION, ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY — THE SOCIAL DRIVERS OF HEALTH — ARE THE BROADER CONTRIBUTING FACTORS OF TRUE HEALTH AND WELLNESS.”
Our evolving community-partnered efforts include providing education and mentorship for young people to give them tools to live healthier lives while encouraging them to explore careers in health care. As we conduct health examinations, we are screening people to determine their social needs and connecting them to housing- and nutrition-assistance programs. With our UCLA Health Homeless Healthcare Collaborative, we bring high-quality health care and associated resources directly to one of our most vulnerable populations — men, women and children who are un-housed or experiencing housing insecurity. And we are directing UCLA Health dollars toward small minority-, woman- and veteran-owned businesses to support the economic growth of communities.
We also are confronting a longstanding criticism often leveled at UCLA Health that we historically have not served all of the communities within Los Angeles. As we build a more integrated health system, we are doing so with a vision through an equity lens. We are intentionally evaluating how we can better serve the diverse communities of Los Angeles, especially the areas of greatest need that have been historically neglected. Doing so is our moral obligation, and it also makes good business sense.
All of this necessitates a significant shift in mindset at the institutional level about how we address the health and overall well-being of people throughout Los Angeles to achieve equity, which means not only delivering the best care possible, but also taking into account the specific needs — economic, cultural and psychosocial, among other factors — of individuals and communities and filling in the gaps to ensure that the person we are treating has the best care, the best experience and the best outcome that we can provide.
To accomplish this requires a heightened level of strategic intentionality as we decide where and how to apply our resources to positively influence social drivers of health to create the greatest individual and community benefit possible
This is our vision for the future. Three years is the blink of an eye, and transformation doesn’t happen overnight. There are many more years of work ahead of us. But our renewed commitment to uphold principles of inclusivity, equity and justice for our people, patients and communities will be our North Star.
We will proceed with courage, compassion and intentional actions to promote health equity and overall wellness throughout Los Angeles and beyond.
Dr. Medell K. Briggs-Malonson is chief of Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at UCLA Health and associate professor of emergency medicine.