In observance of Black History Month, Spectrum Health Systems is honoring some of the people who have improved access to care and worked to address treatment disparities affecting the Black community. Just as the Black community has faced economic and educational injustices, it has also faced healthcare inequalities.
In the time of Jim Crow segregation, many hospitals and medical offices were kept entirely separate by race. And because of educational segregation, there was a severe lack of trained Black medical professionals, leading to a variety of disadvantageous health outcomes—such as higher infant mortality rates and shorter life expectancies—for the Black community.
Leading the Way to Health Equity
Several important figures have played key roles in bringing healthcare resources and education to the marginalized Black community through the years. One pioneer in removing these barriers to care was Sophia B. Jones. Born in Ontario, Canada in 1857, Jones went on to graduate medical school and become the first Black faculty member at Spelman College in 1885. From there, she would begin practicing medicine, devoting herself to improving public health and attaining health equity.
Jones was motivated by the philosophy of racial uplift, a system of values she and her contemporaries pursued in the effort of eliminating racial disparity. A response to the assault on the civil and political rights of people of color, racial uplift encouraged Black Americans to empower themselves to enhance their standard of living despite the forces oppressing them.
Years later, the signing of the Civil Rights Act would enable important progress to be made, desegregating the education system, and reducing disparity in the racial wealth gap. The fight for health equity didn’t end with desegregation, though. Enduring discrimination would lead to disproportionate numbers of people of color, specifically Black Americans, being incarcerated for drug offenses, and a lack of accessible treatment for Black people suffering from substance use disorders.
Ongoing Efforts to Eliminate Racial Disparity in Healthcare
Like Sophia Jones and other health equity activists that came before him, Arthur C. Evans, Jr., Ph.D., has spent his career working to reduce the discrepancies in health outcomes for Black Americans. Currently serving as the CEO of the American Psychological Association, Evans’ career was marked by early success as the deputy commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. In this role, he spearheaded major initiatives in the state’s behavioral healthcare system. Effecting a recovery-oriented policy framework, he used evidence-based practices to address healthcare disparities.
He would later spend 12 years as commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, where he implemented his data-driven approach to address a range of public health needs. Utilizing trauma-informed methodologies, Evans helped enact major transformations aimed at improving health outcomes in historically underserved communities. Projects like the Pay for Performance initiative, which incentivizes the provision of quality clinical care through performance metrics, and the Mental Health First Aid program, which brings education and resources to individuals suffering mental health crises, are just a few of the beneficial programs initiated by Evans’ efforts.
How We Can Promote Health Equity
At Spectrum, we honor brave individuals like Sophia Jones and Arthur Evans and the many others who have worked tirelessly to improve health outcomes in the Black community and paved the way for many of the value-based care practices we’re committed to delivering for our clients. Still, we acknowledge the fact that there is and will always be more progress to be made. It’s because of this that we launched our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) committee. Since its introduction, the committee has revised and updated both client and employee-facing procedures and provided DE&I trainings both virtually and in-person for the entirety of our organization. In adherence to our belief that treatment should be accessible to everyone, we’re determined to foster an inclusive recovery environment and eliminate barriers to care.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction or a substance use disorder, call Spectrum Health Systems today at 1-877-MyRehab.