Like many of us, I have been immensely disturbed by the video images that have emerged from the recent unrest across the nation. I was especially distraught when I saw the video of a knee being pressed to George Floyd’s neck. I believed it was important that I listen carefully, thoughtfully and reflect on the pain and suffering evidenced in the outpouring of grief over the tragic loss of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor's lives. Sparrow’s Mission is to improve the health of the people in our communities by providing quality, compassionate care to everyone, every time. To do so, we must acknowledge that racism is a national pandemic that impacts our caregivers, patients and community members’ mental and physical health on a daily basis. And as an organization, we must stand with the communities we serve to condemn racism and work to eliminate racial inequalities. As the community’s health system, we state in no uncertain terms that racism has no place at Sparrow and we absolutely support all efforts to eliminate individual and institutional racism. To combat racial injustices though, we must confront and talk about what’s uncomfortable and what’s important. Racism is a health crisis that needs be eradicated, and the senseless death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, along with many other African Americans, can’t be ignored or tolerated. Sparrow is committed to working with our community partners to combat racism and discrimination and to ensure Sparrow maintains a welcoming and inclusive environment where our caregivers, patients, and community members feel respected and valued at all times. At Sparrow, we feel the effects of racial injustice even more acutely since it has such a devastating effect on an individual’s access to healthcare. There’s been telling research over the years on the real-world differences in healthcare provided to African-Americans and other diverse populations versus Caucasians. Forget for a moment all the other issues tied to racism and consider alone how it would feel to have your wife, your husband, your child or your parent experience what the research shows:
- Your African-American wife or mother is less likely to have her breast cancer detected at an early stage than a white woman.
- As an African-American, your medical treatment – even in a hospital – may not be as thorough as that experienced by a white person.
- Women of color are 2.4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes in Michigan.
These kinds of findings have been well documented for decades, yet still exist. Racism results in people not getting the basic healthcare that every human being deserves. It speaks to a lack of respect that simply cannot be allowed to continue in our society. In reflecting on this issue, I know in my heart that Sparrow believes in diversity and inclusion; however, I wanted to see from a data standpoint how we are doing on diversity and inclusion. We see hundreds of thousands of patients a year at our various sites of care and they represent the mosaic of our community. As the largest private employer in the region, it is incumbent that we strive to be as diverse as the population we serve because that brings better understanding to what they are experiencing. Nearly one-third of Ingham County is non-white. The 2010 census showed our core Greater Lansing area (also including Clinton and Eaton counties) as about 78 percent white. And those numbers are fairly close to the racial makeup of our patients. Our workforce, though, is about 84 percent white. About 1,400 of our employees are of diversity background: 6 percent African-American, 4 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian and another 3 % of other diverse ethnicities. This tells me we still have work to do. Like everyone else, we have been on a journey to be our best for our caregivers and the community. Our leaders and our governing boards are responsive for the needs of the community and I know we can make Lansing a better place to live and find good health. Sparrow’s vision is to be a leader in quality and patient experience, and we want the communities we serve, especially our African American community members, to know that Sparrow Health System stands with you to fight against racial injustices, and we are here to support Your Health, Your Care, and Your Life. So, how can we help do more toward eliminating racial injustice? A place to start is by entering in to what can be an uncomfortable conversation, however, so very necessary to expand our understanding. In that spirit, I will be hosting a series of town forums for our diversity employees and practitioners to listen and look for ways to help Sparrow and our community to be better and eliminate institutional biases. Also, I hope that you will please join us in supporting peaceful protests like the one planned by the Lansing chapter of the NAACP next Wednesday, June 10. College-age members of the organization plan to walk from the Lansing Center to the state Capitol, where a rally will be held. I’ve directed Sparrow to donate 1,500 surgical masks for the rally so that the participants can demonstrate in a safe way that protects them from COVID-19 transmission. In closing, I ask that you please join with our fellow community members in bringing about structural change to eliminate racial injustices and promoting diversity. Sparrow has a 124-year history of caring for the community, and listening to the cries of grief over the last week, our community needs us more now than ever. James F. Dover, FACHE President and CEO Sparrow Health System