The World Health Organization has, since its inception in 1948, endorsed health as a fundamental right for all, regardless of race, religion, political belief, economic status, or social condition. Falling short on this foundational concept results in health inequity, where unjust health outcomes have a negative impact on certain people groups.
The Conference on Mission 2021 held by AdventHealth, an Adventist health system based in Florida, United States, provided an avenue for discussions around the state of health equity within that organization, as the topic remains one of the key pillars underpinning AdventHealth’s mission of “Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ.”
“Today, we will embark on a journey of self-reflection and removal of our own unconscious bias,” AdventHealth president and CEO Terry Shaw said in his opening remarks. “We will address critical areas of health equity through exploring examples like social determinants of health, statistics, actionable next steps, and what we can do to promote health equity in our communities. We want to explore the complexity and discomfort in solving problems that will raise awareness of experiences and stories that do not look like our own.”
The two-day virtual conference, held August 27 and 28, 2021, convened more than 300 people comprising AdventHealth Board members, executives, health equity experts, mission and ministry leaders, and Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders across the country.
The inspiration for the conference theme “Healing Together” was drawn from the apostle Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 — “We are all one in Christ Jesus” — which depicts Christ’s expectation of relating with one another beyond our differences.
Joseph Betancourt, the keynote speaker on the first day of the conference, shared his top three lessons from leading health equity efforts in a conversation with Shaw. First, he emphasized that leadership buy-in is essential. He also mentioned that analyzing data is paramount to achieving health equity and added that a strategic plan is always necessary to move aspiration into execution.
Commenting on the state of health equity within AdventHealth, Alric Simmonds, chief health equity officer for AdventHealth, revealed that everyday discrimination among minority groups causes chronic stress, which in turn has a physiological impact on life expectancy.
“Compared to white women, the cumulative effect of the chronic stressors that affect Black women reduces their life expectancy by seven and a half years,” Simmonds said. In central Florida alone, research has proven that Black women have less access to prenatal care than other demographic groups, leading to pre-term births with low weight, and consequently resulting in high infant mortality rates. Based on these daunting statistics, Simmonds called on health-care providers to join the cause of making it easy for underserved populations to receive care at AdventHealth.
Julie Zaiback-Aldinger, executive director of community advocacy and health equity for AdventHealth, noted that the disparities index was helping AdventHealth to take action on issues arising within the communities it serves. The disparity index is a technical indicator used to identify and measure the impact of health-care disparities within communities.
For the first time at a Conference on Mission, the Sabbath requiem featured the AdventHealth Orchestra, which performed Samuel Barber's Adagio in honor of those lost to COVID-19. The musical group is the first of its kind at AdventHealth and is made up solely of AdventHealth team members, some of whom have felt the pressure of the front lines since the pandemic hit.
“Talking about others who are different from us isn’t an easy conversation to have,” Ted Hamilton, senior vice president and chief mission integration officer for AdventHealth, said. “This year’s conference has brought attention to the significant work we still need to do in the health equity space as we strive to emulate Christ’s healing ministry.”