Indianapolis-area hospital systems call racism ‘public health crisis’

Three hospital systems in central Indiana are calling racism a public health crisis and say they are committing to a “culture of inclusion” that addresses and reduces discrimination.

Indiana University Health, Community Health Network and Eskenazi Health issued a joint statement Thursday, saying that social and economic inequities “are a recipe for pain, suffering, premature mortality and civil protest.”

“Our society only truly thrives when everyone has an opportunity to succeed and live a healthy life,” the statement said. “We are committed to moving forward together. By harnessing the collective strengths of our organizations, we will help serve our communities as agents of change.”

The health systems did not say if any one incident prompted the statement, but it came after a summer of racial unrest in Indianapolis and other cities, following the death of Black man George Floyd after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest.

The hospitals are the latest to step forward as a group. Earlier this month, some of central Indiana’s most important employers — including Anthem Inc., Citizens Energy Group, Cummins Inc., Eli Lilly and Co., Indianapolis Colts, Pacers Sports & Entertainment, Roche Diagnostics USA and Salesforce— signed the “Indy Racial Equity Pledge,” which promises to continue the conversation about social justice into the months and years ahead.

The hospitals said they “seek to eliminate the systemic racism that disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities, we say without hesitation that we stand united against racism, injustice and inaction.”

They added that racism results in generational trauma and poverty, while causing higher rates of illness and death in Black and Brown communities.

“We have seen — in its rawest form — how the trauma of systemic racism adds to the historic injustices that have and continue to disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities,” the joint statement said.

The statement was signed by Bryan Mills, president and CEO of Community Health System, and Dennis Murphy, president and CEO of Indiana University Health. Dr. Lisa Harris, CEO of Eskenazi Health, also signed the statement. Mills and Murphy invited other health systems in central Indiana to join in  the pledge, according to spokespersons from their organizations.

Neither of central Indiana’s two major Catholic hospital systems — Franciscan Health or Ascension St. Vincent — signed the statement. A spokeswoman for Ascension St. Vincent released a statement: “Ascension St. Vincent is fully committed to supporting diversity and inclusion in our sites of care and throughout communities in Indiana. As part of Ascension’s sustainable and systemwide commitment to listen, pray, learn and act, we are actively helping address racism and systemic injustice through a comprehensive framework, which is outlined here,” with a link to a webpage.

A Franciscan Health spokesman said he was unaware of the joint statement, but did not comment further.

The joint statement also pledged to reduce discrimination among employees, patients and guests; ensure that workers “have the ability to achieve jobs that pay a livable wage,” and improve the demographic makeup of their leadership “to reflect the Indiana communities we serve, with particular focus on people of color.”

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