Two years ago, Mass General Brigham’s United Against Racism initiative was born out of the civil unrest and protests against racist violence that began in Minneapolis and spread globally. Those protests, carried out in the long shadows of the 1960s civil rights movement, will forever be imprinted in our memories. The tragic and needless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others, refocused national attention on our country’s shameful and persistent history of systemic racism. Like so many across the world, we were outraged and driven to take decisive action to do our part in helping to eradicate racial inequities.
As caregivers, our commitment is to all our patients, and this initiative was not the first time our institutions had grappled with inequities within the healthcare system. Mass General Brigham has a long history of research, community service, and clinical programs focused on combatting systemic inequities. But United Against Racism was the first time that we, together as a system, formalized a higher level of leadership and accountability in addressing and dismantling racism.
My own lived experiences, as well as over two decades of an academic and community health career, have provided insights into the impacts of racism, poverty, and social risk factors on the health outcomes of children and families. I have seen firsthand, working primarily with mothers and children living in poverty, the far-reaching health implications for patients historically marginalized by racism. As someone who has been committed to these issues for many years, I am particularly proud of the accomplishments and the immense work happening across our system to combat racism and inequities in health care, in the communities we serve, and in our own workforce.
As this series closes and we begin to look ahead, I’d like to look back at the updates we’ve shared about our collective work this past year:
We started this series on United Against Racism with a two-year anniversary reflection:
Next, we outlined our multi-pronged approach to achieving equality in the workplace:
We focused on how we’re combatting racial inequities in our clinical settings:
Then we looked at how we’re approaching digital equity — both in the use of technology to combat inequities and in the approach to make these tools as inclusive as possible:
Finally, we explored how we’re working with communities to mitigate non-clinical, but health-critical social risk factors like food insecurity:
In this coming year, I am looking forward to the expansion of several of our initiatives:
These programs, along with countless others, give us much to celebrate, while we acknowledge there is still much to do. We must acknowledge that we won’t get everything right. But our academic culture of continuous quality improvement, learning, testing, evaluating, and adapting helps us identify what’s not working and pivot to better ideas. Ours is a work in progress — progress that will need to span decades. With every inch forward, and the entirety of our system moving together, I’m hopeful that small gains can coalesce into a sweeping tide of change.
Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH
Chief Community Health and Health Equity Officer
Mass General Brigham