When it comes to evaluating an organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, equity, and social justice, don’t just consider what it says, look at what it does. Novant Health believes that if society isn’t healthy, no one is healthy, and our care is built around that premise. Just as we try to treat the whole patient, we’re committed to the care of our whole communities. Here are four foundational ways that Novant Health puts its principles into practice.   

1. Closing gaps in health care disparities

As a young nurse in Winston-Salem, Yvonne Dixon will always remember the patient who refused her care, saying he didn’t want a black nurse. He was a member of the local Ku Klux Klan. Today, Dixon is the director of health equity at Novant Health, where she works with a team to identify the gaps in health care and develop programs that can help close those gaps.

dixon
Yvonne Dixon

One example: Dixon worked on a project to reduce avoidable readmissions among African-American patients. In 2018, Novant Health became the first health care system to receive the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Health Equity Award for closing the gap in readmission rates by 50% among black patients with pneumonia.

Other strategies Novant Health uses include:

• In Brunswick County on the coast, Novant Health hosts an annual baby shower for families that are struggling financially. The event is just one more investment in the community and helps fulfill Novant Health's mission to help everyone live a healthy life. Brunswick Medical Center also hosts Project SEARCH, which provides internship experience for students 18 to 21 with developmental disabilities through the hospital’s partnership with Brunswick Community College, Brunswick County Schools and the North Carolina Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services.

• Removing barriers to care by investing in community clinics, mobile health units and innovative wellness and screening initiatives. These resources ensure vital access to services for communities most in need. Initiatives include the Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic, which opened in fall 2019, to treat residents of Charlotte’s underserved west side.

• Studying communities we serve, including conducting a Community Health Needs Assessment with the Mecklenburg County Health Department that identified six Charlotte ZIP codes where health equity gaps were especially large. Today, Novant Health is working to narrow those gaps through a variety of programs and outreach.

• Deploying team members to communities with limited access to COVID-19 screening and respiratory care. We’re distributing free masks and providing education to our most vulnerable community members.

2. Investments in upward mobility

• Committing $6 million to the Charlotte Housing Opportunity Investment Fund to address the affordable housing crisis. In 2019, Novant Health delivered $993 million in total community benefit, including $152.3 million in financial assistance to members in the communities we serve.

• Participating in the ONE Charlotte Health Alliance, which improves access to health care for underserved communities in Charlotte. ONE Charlotte grew from the aftermath of civil unrest that occurred after the 2016 fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.

• Supporting the economic health of the communities we serve by partnering with more than 400 diverse suppliers to boost our commitment to working with small businesses owned by women, ethnic minorities, veterans and people with different abilities.

3. Corporate culture of support and inclusion       

• Creating the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund) to offer financial support for team members during the COVID-19 pandemic. In many cases, it’s helping health care workers whose personal financial safety net is the thinnest. Some team members were getting fewer hours, while for others, a partner may have lost their job and the family had no idea where next month’s rent or car payment was coming from. Novant Health contributed $10 million to the fund. “At Novant Health, our business is the care of all people and that starts with our team members,” said Carl Armato, president and chief executive officer of Novant Health.

• Fostering an ongoing culture that promotes asking questions or raising concerns, ensuring that all team members are heard and respected. Everyone is encouraged to raise their hand and say, “I have a concern,” in any situation, irrespective of their title or job description. The goal is to ensure that everyone has a voice at Novant Health.

4. Support for the LGBTQ community

To address the gap in equitable health care for many members of the LGBTQ community, Novant Health embraced a new federal mandate and stretched to make it more patient-focused. We launched the “Tell Us More” initiative, which includes asking patients about their sexual orientation and gender identity so that care is personalized. Understanding a patient’s whole story allows Novant Health to provide the best possible care.

“Health equity is about creating an inclusive environment where everyone can get the care they need,” said Tanya Blackmon, executive vice president and chief diversity, inclusion and equity officer at Novant Health.

“For us, the beauty of looking at both the less visible and visible characteristics is that you see the whole person,” Blackmon said. “Seeing those differences allow us to create environments where there’s trust, commitment and a mutual respect for each other.”

Note: Top photo was taken before COVID-19 and the need for masks and social distancing.