Video & highlights from our “Black Leadership in US Health Care and Health Policy” virtual conversation

On Friday, June 19, State of Reform held a virtual conversation titled “Black Leadership in US Health Care and Health Policy” with three of the most thoughtful senior health care executives and health care leaders with which we work across the Western United States. The panel featured Eric Hunter of CareOregon, Demetria Malloy, MD, of Anthem Medicaid in California, and Rep. Garnet Coleman, a 30-year legislator out of Houston, Texas.

During the conversation, the three leaders discussed their experience working to transform US health care, their experience as Black leaders, and the role the health care sector can play to address structural inequality and racism in American society.



In his opening comments, Hunter summed up the last few weeks and the change society is going through by referencing a quote.

“There’s a quote I read,” says Hunter, “that George Floyd wasn’t a wakeup call — the alarm has been going off for over 400 years. The difference is now people have gotten out of bed. We’re not hitting that snooze button anymore. And so, if ever there was a time that we could rally with folks that support the cause of basic humanity and racial justice, this is it. We need to take advantage of it.”

During the conversation, a participant asked what steps can be taken to address institutional racism in the health care system and to foster anti-racism. In response, Hunter described racism as a public health emergency. He said the first step is concretely identifying how racism manifests itself in health and the care patients receive. This can be done by collecting and analyzing data to understand disparities.

“In health care, if you can put numbers on it, you can put dollars on it. If you can put dollars on it, you get action,” says Hunter.

He also says focusing on whole person care, taking into account social determinants of health, and working with teaching hospitals and medical schools to understand biases are also important steps.

Malloy, in reference to a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar op-ed, described racism as “dust in the air.” She says there is now a light shining on it and that we are now more present to the impacts and disfunction of that dust in the air. Malloy says individual decisions can add up to lessen the undue burden that people of color hold in the United States.

“Each of our little contributions feed into the overall environment that all of us have to live with,” says Malloy. “Silence is not an option. That’s actually a choice to not do something. You have to say: What’s your role? What’s my sphere of influence? What can I do and what can I do on a continual, everyday basis to clear this dust from the air?”

When asked how to lobby the leadership of organizations to act more boldly to stand up for racial equality, Malloy stressed the importance of starting with data to build an objective platform. She also says it’s important to build accountability by identifying the organization’s goals and mission, and to speak to increasing diversity, addressing health equity, and developing specific programs that serve the organization’s goals.

Rep. Coleman, who has served Texas’s House District 147 since 1991, offered a legislative perspective on how different silos can pull together to address health disparities.

First, Coleman called for the reinstatement of the state’s disparities task force which had its funding pulled in 2017. This, he says, will make clear the necessary data and statistics to see these outcomes and disparities. He also called for implicit bias training for law enforcement.

“People don’t know what their biases are unless they are confronted with them and then work to stop that. I think that’s important in public health and in care under Medicaid when people tend to blame the patient for their problems as opposed to treating the patient’s illness,” says Coleman.

The full video of the conversation is available above.