University of Utah Health Equity, Diversion and Inclusion (UHEDI) and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) recently celebrated MEDiversity Week (Oct. 31-Nov. 4) to highlight issues facing members of our Utah community. The major theme was “Securing Health Equity for All,” which explored how University of Utah Health can develop policies, practices, and programs that move us closer to the goal of eliminating health disparities among patients from historically marginalized populations.
The weeklong program included events and discussions focusing on achieving equitable health outcomes for all patients, particularly those from underserved communities. Among the events was a webinar hosted by the University of Utah Women in Health, Medicine, & Science (WiHMS) group on supporting reproductive rights.
Moderated by WiHMS co-directors Dr. Amanda Bakian and Dr. Holly Sharp, the online discussion included Michelle Debbink, MD, PhD, assistant professor and department vice chair for equity, diversity, and inclusion in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, along with department colleague, associate professor Lori Gawron, MD, MPH.
Among the major issues discussed was the definition of reproductive justice, which the panelists said is a concept built on a human rights framework.
“The concept of reproductive justice has three tenets, the right to have a child, the right, not to have a child and the right to parent those children and safe and healthy circumstances,” Debbink explained. “If we approach things with a reproductive justice lens, then our rights to reproductive health care access fall into place in an obvious way because that is how you manifest reproductive justice.”
Gawron added that another key component of consideration for reproductive justice and health equity is the impact public policy, specifically the Dobbs v. Jackson case the was instrumental in the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, has on shaping individual reproductive rights – especially those of marginalized populations.
“Turning things back to the states only worsens what’s already been happening as public health crisises in certain states. So, when you think about specifically, some southern states where we already had limited reproductive health access, very few providers, where family planning clinics have closed because of lack of support or restrictions and those states,” Gawron said. “Those family planning clinics were often the only place in rural settings where people could go because it’s the only health care provider in that setting. So, we see this snowball effect of already poor public health outcomes that are only going to be worse than by this decision.”
Gawron and Debbink agreed that now more than ever, vulnerable populations needed to be supported, particularly as it relates to health equity and reproductive justice.
During the MEDiversity Week film screening and panel discussion of “Meet Me Where I Am”, a short film produced by University of Utah Health about their Intensive Outpatient Clinic (IOC), the audience was able to engage with the panelists during the discussion and Q&A. In attendance on the panel was Academy Awarding winning director of the film Ross Kauffman, Adolphus Nickleberry, the subject of the film and clinic patient, and Dr. Stacey Bank, medical director of the clinic who worked with Adolphus.
Moderator Joe Borgenicht, Director of Strategic Communications at U Health, kept the discussion lively and emotional, asking Mr. Nickleberry how treatment at the IOC had impacted his life. Mr. Nickelberry spoke frankly and described how the support and constant communication from the IOC was able to disrupt his cycle of addiction, which led to him reconnecting with his family and staying sober. His family members in attendance spoke of seeing the change themselves and their appreciation.
Most left inspired, to not only champion the IOC, but to apply successful aspects of the clinic’s addiction recovery program into their own practice.
On Nov. 2, Dr. Evan Adams, MD, MPH, the deputy chief medical officer for Indigenous Services Canada spoke to a virtual audience. As a member of the Tla’amin (Sliammon) First Nation, he worked extensively with First Nations health programs in Canada and served as deputy provincial health officer with the British Columbia Ministry of Health.
Adams was appointed the first-ever Aboriginal Health Physician Advisor for the province of British Columbia. His comments focused on Indigenous health and wellbeing, which he said goes beyond individual physical health. He said that to improve health outcomes today, Canada must address the country’s discriminatory, violent past and present towards Indigenous Peoples.
He detailed the experience of Joyce Echaquan, First Nations woman in the province of Quebec.
“This young woman recorded a video while she was being degraded by a hospital staff,” he explained. The nurses were berating her as she lay dying, and the incident was broadcast on Facebook Live, he said.
“She managed to capture these racist acts against her while she was in the health care system,” Adams said. There needs to be accountability in the healthcare system that describes appropriate and inappropriate actions, and how can we improve patient care, he said.
During the week, EDI announced the recipients of the 2022 Leadership in Inclusive Excellence Awards. Recipients included individuals and organizations deemed to have demonstrated equity transformation and leadership at University of Utah Health.
The culmination of MEDiversity Week was the keynote address presented by Daniel E. Dawes, JD executive director, Satcher Health Leadership Institute Professor of Health Law, Policy, and Management Morehouse School of Medicine. He noted that race, public policy and socioeconomics were key factors in determining outcomes as it related to securing health equity for all.
“To address this critical issue and to really move that needle of health equity to a meaningful degree, it’s really going to take greater action from all of us committed to harnessing the power of collaboration with communities who have been disproportionately affected to move that needle forward,” Dawes said. “So how do we take advantage of this time, this moment in time to repair the past and to, of course, create more meaningful and permanent and lasting change for communities of color, for rural communities that struggle with health care, access, with the LGBT communities that have struggled with depression and anxiety and bullying, or older adults? Well, it starts with first considering what gives rise to the determinants and drivers of health and more importantly, why they have disproportionately and detrimentally affected minority races and other marginalized individuals and communities for so long.”
A Friday Forum session concluded MEDIversity Week with discussion on the challenges of working to secure health equity for all underrepresented groups in today’s society. Speakers on the panel included moderator Ivette A. López, PhD, MPH Professor, Public Health Department of Family and Preventive Medicine and the University of Utah director the Utah Area Health Education Centers; keynote speaker Daniel E. Dawes, JD; Bonzo K. Reddick, MD, MPH professor and chair for the Department of Community Medicine at Mercer University School of Medicine; and Gita Suneja, MD, MSHP, associate professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Utah.
This event was part of the IntersectX12 initiative, which reminds community members recognize and honor individuals’ intersecting identities all year long, not just during nationally recognized months.