By Joy A. Lewis, Senior Vice President, Health Equity Strategies and Executive Director, Institute for Diversity and Health Equity (IFDHE), American Hospital Association
Hospitals and health systems recognize the need to turn health equity talk into action – something I referred to in a recent blog post as the “knowing-doing” gap. The national discourse about structural barriers for some individuals to pursue their health goals and the inequitable COVID-19 testing and vaccine administration efforts have heightened awareness of this gap. Millions of Americans encounter disparities in health outcomes on the basis of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and many other factors. Confronting these disparities simply cannot wait any longer.
Central to transformation efforts is making sure that health equity is integrated throughout organizations’ policies and practices, with a focus on maintaining accountability for sustained change. It also means looking for new and creative ways to achieve equity in health outcomes.
The hospital field is moving this work forward in a number of ways. For example, some have focused on stratified or segmented data collection to better understand and develop targeted interventions. Others have enacted organizational reforms to embed health equity into regular operations, making it a part of their daily routine, as is patient safety.
Another strategy gaining momentum is investing in health equity solutions that are needed but not yet widely available. Underrepresented entrepreneurs and fund leaders receive less capital not due to a lack of talent, but rather because of a lack of access to needed financing. For example, health technology investments reached over $30 billion in 2021, yet just 2.6% of all venture dollars go to Black and Latino founders, according to recent estimates.
These gaps in resources require a solution. That is why earlier this year, the AHA announced that it was investing in funds that are working to close these gaps. The managed funds the AHA selected finance historically marginalized entrepreneurs who have limited access to the funds needed to develop innovative solutions for hospitals and other parts of the health sector. These companies are focusing on areas like improving health care access, affordability and quality, especially for communities dealing with sustained hardship.
SteelSky Ventures is one of the managed funds receiving early AHA support. SteelSky Ventures is a female-led venture capital firm making critical investments in women’s health, with a focus on innovation in care delivery. The AHA also announced its investment in Jumpstart Nova, a fund that will invest exclusively in Black founded-and-led health care companies across the health sector.
And, we aren’t stopping there. The AHA has plans to announce additional investments later this year.
Like other nonprofit trade groups, the AHA maintains reserves and invests in a diversified portfolio. Over the last few years, however, our leadership began to look more intentionally at how we might invest in a manner that addresses key priority areas for our members.
At the same time, the association was evolving in its strategy with investment in the AHA Innovation Development Fund managed by Concord Health Partners. The goal was to invest in early-stage health care companies that provide products, services and solutions that help hospitals and health systems transform care delivery and spur innovation. The fund helped to lay the groundwork for a new set of investments with a health equity lens.
In late 2020, the AHA announced a realignment to strengthen its focus on health equity. This included the new role I now occupy as senior vice president for health equity strategies, part of the AHA’s 15-member executive management group. In February 2022, the AHA Board of Trustees updated the AHA’s mission and vision statements to more directly reflect the importance of equity in advancing the health of individuals and communities.
This most recent round of investments was a result of all of these developments, as well as a series of conversations with my colleague and AHA senior vice president for business development Doug Shaw. We spent a year surveying the market to see which leaders were having impact in this area. The goal was to merge a health equity focus with products and solutions that would fill AHA member needs.
Hospitals and health systems are a critical part of the health care ecosystem and, as such, there is an imperative that we do our part to advance equitable conditions for all. Complementing these efforts is the AHA Health Equity Roadmap, a framework AHA just unveiled to support hospitals and health systems in their efforts to become more equitable organizations and dismantle structural barriers to health. The Roadmap is designed to meet hospitals and health systems where they are on their equity journey. For some, that journey may include similar investments.
We know that getting the right resources in the right places is one missing link to addressing disparities from historical and/or structural inequities, and we will keep moving with urgency to fill those gaps.
The American Hospital Association is a 2022 Aspen Ideas: Health underwriter. The views and opinions of the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Aspen Institute.