Researchers at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine recently reported that people in Eastern Washington are more likely to die from cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other common causes of death than people in the western part of the state.
This is our community by the numbers:
49.5 percent are Hispanic
43.2 percent are non-Hispanic white
3.6 percent are Native American
15 percent of our residents live in small towns or rural areas (compared to 2 percent in Western Washington)
84 percent have no college degree
28 percent do not have a high school education
36 percent have food insecurity.
It’s no surprise that the report cited poverty and less access to health care as possible reasons for these disparities.
What these disparities highlight is a concept called health equity. This is not a vague, obscure concept. Health care inequity occurs every day — and often right within the walls of our own health care system.
But we’re working hard to change that at Virginia Mason Memorial (VMM). In December 2016, we signed the American Hospital Association Equity of Care Pledge, and in December 2017, we created our Health Equity Leadership Guiding Team. And in 2018, we took that work to team members throughout our system.
Our strategies include:
Optimizing systems of care for all
Increasing diversity in VMM governance
Leadership and workforce
Leveraging community partnerships for greater collective impact
One of our current key focus areas is rounding with monolingual hospital patients by our language access program supervisor, use of a video and phone translation service, and encouraging our Spanish speaking team members to become certified translators. Patients should never learn about their condition, treatment and medications through their family members, sometimes children.
We are all on this journey together. Cultural competency is key to health equity and safe care for all.
Our goal? Zero harm. Patients with limited English proficiency are more likely to experience medical errors due to communication problems. Patients with limited English proficiency are more likely to suffer physical harm when errors occur.
During meetings with team members in 2018, we talked about the importance of health equity and appreciating diversity in both our community and our organization. To kick off the sessions, we watched a video that brought chills of concern — it featured a panicked mother trying to get help for her very ill young child, but the doctors could not understand her. The room was quiet. Each team member could feel what it would be like not to be understood at a time when you desperately need care for a loved one.
Our value of Respect means everything to us at Virginia Mason Memorial. It is so important to practice this value with each other and our patients. It is vital in our roles as health care professionals that we have the ability to understand and communicate with people from all backgrounds. It is critical to providing safe care.
We are all on this journey together. Cultural competency is key to health equity and safe care for all. This is a journey that continues each and every day for us at Virginia Mason Memorial.