Shortly after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Andrea Walsh, the president and CEO of HealthPartners, made the statement that HealthPartners is an anti-racist organization. Two years after taking this bold stance with the support of the organization’s 26,000+ employees, Andrea talks with the Off the Charts podcast team about why the stance needed to be made, the progress made since and the hopeful road ahead. Listen to the episode or read the transcript.

Why “anti-racist”?

The term itself can be jarring, but the words were chosen purposefully to underline the urgency of the situation. As Andrea put it, “as an organization with a mission around health and well-being, there is no question that racism impacts health.” And to be an organization where everyone is welcomed, included and valued, the people and patients of HealthPartners need to live and work in a place where everyone is able to achieve their very best health – which can’t happen with any degree of racism.

The stance of being anti-racist is important because there is so much work to be done. Stating that HealthPartners is an anti-racist organization draws a clear line that the present state of gaps, exclusion and bias in health care is far from OK. And, to address those disparities and foster better relationships, it’s crucial to face the underlying issues that result in people being excluded.

Two years later: Lessons learned and progress made

The first key step was forming the HealthPartners health equity, inclusion and anti-racism cabinet, made up of diverse leaders from areas and departments across the organization. While HealthPartners was already making smaller efforts to address inequities and increase diversity, they urgently needed to be scaled up. The cabinet actively looks at current opportunities, draws connections between departments and sets aggressive goals to achieve short- and long-term success that is clear and measurable.

From there, and with the focused efforts of colleagues across HealthPartners, the proof of progress is clear. Lessons learned in the early stages of COVID-19 vaccine distribution proved the effectiveness of outreach and using different communication channels like texting to reach communities of color. Providing easier ways to access preventive screenings is also significantly reducing disparity gaps, as seen with same-day mammography screenings and at-home FIT tests to screen for colorectal cancer. By trying new practices, seeing the progress through data and translating the lessons to other departments, the people of HealthPartners are realizing the anti-racist philosophy into meaningful action.

The long and hopeful road ahead

Despite the current green shoots of progress, the road ahead will be long. Andrea hears the impatience, recognizing that we all want to do more and move faster. However, we can only do it together. As Andrea reflects, making progress requires everyone to do their level best as individuals, broadening to teams, the organization and the community. Unless everyone is in, progress can’t be made – which can be frustrating.

However, by creating human connections with communities both inside and outside the walls of HealthPartners, and by being honest and holding ourselves and others accountable for progress, we can ensure that we’re in a place that lives our values and strives to be at our best. And Andrea sees that in action every day. From the outreach of diverse affinity and resource groups to impactful stories of colleagues supporting each other when faced with racist actions in clinical settings, Andrea sees hope for the future in people. Through teamwork and commitment to the organization’s mission and values, the people of HealthPartners are creating a safer and more inclusive environment for people to heal and be healed.

For more about Andrea’s background at HealthPartners, the history behind the organization’s anti-racist ethos and the map for the road ahead, listen to this episode of Off the Charts.