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Opinion: Achieving racial equity in health care is a task for all of us

It starts with all health systems identifying biases in providing health care.

It’s true — COVID-19 disproportionately affects people of color. We know that Black and Latinx people are 3 to 4 times more likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus. 

This datapoint, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, further highlights the wide health care disparities that our communities of color have faced for far too long.

Today, as we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I want to take a moment to talk about the role the health care industry and each of us can play to turn intentions of ending racial inequity and systemic racism in health care into genuine progress.

Mike Ramseier (Photo by Bear Gutierrez)

The Colorado Health Foundation reported on a survey taken during the COVID-19 pandemic that found more than 35% of Black Coloradans fear losing their home because they can’t afford their rent or mortgage. Nearly 30% of Hispanic Coloradans worry they won’t be able to afford food.

These basic needs — having a roof over your head and food on your table  — dramatically affect your ability to be healthy. Organizations across the state, like Kaiser Permanente, understand this well and have launched various programs and grants to support our communities in need.

Efforts to end systemic racism and achieve racial equity in health care will take time and it will take all of us. And it’s more than grants and programs.

It starts with all health systems identifying biases in providing health care. This involves reviewing data to understand the disparities that exist and why. We can use this information to educate providers and employees, who can in turn help develop solutions.

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These solutions include training clinical teams — physicians, nurses and other staff – to deliver more culturally competent, patient-centered care.

What’s more, we know health happens outside the four walls of a doctor’s office. Health systems in our state can invest in community solutions aimed at addressing socio-economic conditions, support minority-owned businesses, and even help shift policy.

The health care industry can use its knowledge, resources, and influence to replace or change policies that cause harm, and advocate for policies that promote equity and inclusion.

As one example, I’m pleased to announce Kaiser Permanente is providing $500,000 to five nonprofit and community-based organizations in our state whose programs address systemic racism and its accompanying trauma on individuals and communities of color.

The grants are part of a $25 million commitment Kaiser Permanente announced in June to promote health equity and break the cycle of racism-driven stresses that lead to poor health outcomes for its members and communities.

As part of this work, Kaiser Permanente will work with a panel of national racial justice and trauma experts to track and measure the overall progress and impact of these Grants.

I’m proud to see these kinds of supportive programs being developed by more and more organizations in our state. But the work has only just begun.

While there is still much to be done, this work across Colorado signals a small step in the right direction. Colorado, its industries and people must strengthen efforts to create a truly inclusive culture of understanding and action.

As health care providers, we need to further address health disparities and their root causes, and to develop solutions that meet the health care expectations of our patients and the communities we serve. 

The time is now, Colorado, to ensure we build a future of equity, equality and well-being for all people.


Mike Ramseier is Colorado regional president of Kaiser Permanente, which provides care and coverage to more than 600,000 people in the state.


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