Breaking down barriers to health equity

Health equity means giving every person in every community the same access to care and opportunity to be as healthy as possible, no matter their race, gender or any other influence on their life.

The Institute for Health Equity, a Part of Norton Healthcare, was established to address health and racial inequities in the Louisville community. It is a key imperative identified by Russell F. Cox, president and CEO of Norton Healthcare, in June 2020 to address health disparities in our community.

“The premise of the institute is that health equity can only be achieved when every person has a fair opportunity to achieve their full health potential,” said Kelly C. McCants, M.D., executive director of the institute. “We are committing time, talent and resources toward this essential human right.”

Dr. McCants explained that health equity means giving every person in every community what they need to be as healthy as possible, no matter their race, gender or any other influence on their life.

“Reaching full health potential is a journey,” Dr. McCants said. “To achieve it, one must have access to care, health education and proper resources. As a system, we struggle at that first block: access. That’s why we are focusing on access in the West End and other vulnerable neighborhoods. Once you have access to care, we can begin to gauge how to mobilize resources around preventing and treating diseases.

“Without access, we can’t even begin to have an impact.”

Setting goals for success

The institute has an impressive set of goals going into its second year. The first goal is to improve access to care — primary care in particular — in vulnerable neighborhoods. The second is to mobilize the Norton Prevention & Wellness and Norton Faith & Health Ministries teams to provide more services in medically underserved areas. Finally, the institute will focus on prevention and treatment of chronic diseases, such as hypertension, asthma, diabetes and women’s health — which statistically have dire consequences in communities of color.

Meeting these lofty goals is the chief concern of Norton Healthcare’s community medical directors, a group of three practicing physicians who provide direct boots-on-the-ground outreach to underserved communities.

These physicians include specialists in internal medicine, pediatrics and family medicine, who dedicate their time to community education regarding health and chronic diseases through churches, community gatherings, and virtual meetings and forums.

Dr. McCants refers to his colleagues as tireless and motivated “extensions of the institute,” which is itself an access point for vulnerable populations.

Institute for Health Equity, a Part of Norton Healthcare

Headquartered in the Village @ West Jefferson, 1219 W. Jefferson St., Louisville, Kentucky, the Institute for Health Equity was formed in 2020 to address health and racial inequities in our community.

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Located at the Village @ West Jefferson in Louisville’s Russell neighborhood, the 3,751-square-foot space houses staff members, community meeting space, rooms for social work and mental health consultations, and a telehealth room where patients can have one-on-one appointments with medical providers, as well as access resources that align with health and well-being.

Thanks to donations through the Norton Healthcare Foundation, we will have a community health worker/educator on-site in early 2022 to help with outreach education as we work to improve access to health care in West Louisville.

Overcoming barriers

The location of the institute is no coincidence. It demonstrates Norton Healthcare’s imperative to overcome barriers to health equity.

“If I could list the barriers that we face, the first would be mistrust,” Dr. McCants said. “We have to acknowledge and understand the mistrust and commit to do better in the future.

“The second is the lack of a coordinated effort. There are many community-based programs and groups with great intentions, plans and approaches, but often we have operated in silos. If we are going to be effective, collaboration will be key. Our hope is that the institute can foster that collaboration.”

In addition to community collaboration and education, the institute is committed to strengthening physician and caregiver knowledge of social drivers of health inequity. A series of symposia on health equity will be offered soon to clinical and community leaders, and others.

How will we know when health equity truly has been reached?

“Life expectancy in vulnerable neighborhoods today is 12 years less than in more prosperous neighborhoods,” Dr. McCants said. “We’ll know we’ve succeeded when life expectancy doesn’t differ depending on ZIP code or income.”

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