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A Year After George Floyd’s Death, a Look Inward at Some Uncomfortable Truths

May 25, 2021

One year ago, a nation watched a man murdered at the hands of the police. A nation watched in horror as a black father was handcuffed on the pavement, his face next to the back tire and muffler of a police car — the knee of the assaulting police officer buried in his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.

One year ago today, the nation watched George Floyd die.

There was outrage. There were protests. There was a trial. There was a conviction. But none of these events cure the mental anguish many still experience. Mental health experts say trauma is prominently mentioned as a reason people experience serious mental health conditions today. Bigotry and racism have plagued people of color for hundreds of years. Sometimes they are subtle. Other times, they are violent and deadly. It’s an uncomfortable truth that Hartford HealthCare is now addressing.

“We as a health system have become more comfortable talking about those uncomfortable truths, and that’s really important,” said Sarah Lewis, Vice President for Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Hartford HealthCare. “To be able to challenge something or change something, you have to be able to talk about it. If we can talk about those challenging issues that are happening external to Hartford HealthCare, we can talk about the challenges we face internally as well.”

Lewis says the bias one may have against a fellow colleague, or against a patient, can not only harm the individual but also put the entire healthcare system at risk.

“As difficult as it may be to acknowledge systemic racism in society as large, I think for most organizations it is more difficult to talk about how it manifests internally,” said Lewis. “But we have to talk about that in order for us to put the organization in an environment where every colleague is safe, and every patient is safe.”

In the past year, Hartford HealthCare has taken steps to support equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging within the system:

  • Established Colleague Resource Groups to support the impact and advancement of colleagues from underrepresented backgrounds, including African American/Black, Asian American Pacific Islander, Hispanic/LatinX and LGBTQI+.
  • Partnered with the NAACP to expand the successful Fair Chance Program, providing employment and career advancement opportunities for justice-involved individuals.
  • Formed an alliance with the Healthcare Anchor Network, a national collaboration working to address racism as a public health crisis, and tackle the economic and racial inequities that create poor health.
  • Expanded Recruitment and Career Development programs for colleagues and leaders from underrepresented backgrounds including high school and Allied health programs.

Among the other initiatives taken by Hartford HealthCare was broadening the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Councils to regional and systemwide levels.  It was a move Rushford Behavioral Health Center’s Mui Mui Hin-McCormick called necessary to allow everyone to have a voice.

“Prior to this, it was probably very uncomfortable for staff to be able to express how they were feeling when it came to diversity, equity and inclusion issues that were occurring in your own entity, in the system of even in the state,” said Hin-McCormick, Rushford’s Clinical Director for Adult Residential Services and a member of the Hartford HealthCare and Behavioral Health Network Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committees. “Sometimes there needs to be opportunities for us to be able to have conversations about what’s going on outside the workplace.”

A chance to open up about the stress and anguish a colleague may be experiencing in a year defined by stress – and anguish.

“A lot of this stuff was happening where people just needed to know it was all right to feel the emotional rollercoaster that they may be feeling, with anxiety, anger, frustration or sadness, to being able to have thoughtful conversations with other peers about how we can individually do, and then also how an entity, an agency, and a system do better.”

Hartford HealthCare is the lead sponsor of the “The State of Health Equity Among Boys and Men of Color” virtual summit to be held June 8-10. Click here for more information. For tickets, click here.