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The company for whom I’ve worked since March 2015, Lyon Software, has proudly sponsored the annual ACHI Conference – now the Accelerating Health Equity Conference (AHEC) – since back in its earliest days. However, 2022 is the first year I’ve personally had the pleasure of attending the event myself. Therefore, I entered this year’s AHEC from a completely uninitiated perspective, so I knew the experience awaiting me was sure to be new to me no matter how it unfolded.
When We Don’t Reach, We Don’t Connect
History is littered with far too many tragic consequences of shared failure to connect with one another when such connections are not only possible, but mutually beneficial. Though we’re all well aware of this, we also have all likely had moments when, for whatever reason, we’ve opted against making such connections when the opportunity was there for us to do so – usually with very little lost as a result. So we wear it, we accept it, and we move on. One dishearteningly common example of this, paraphrased below, is when someone from an aggrieved group explains their feelings of hurt or frustration to a member of the perceived offending party, only to have that person then mistake the explanatory statement for a direct accusation or personal attack.
“(Your group) has abused its power and access to resources at our expense for generations, and it’s well past time for (your group) to right these wrongs!”
“That may be, and it’s certainly regrettable, but I had nothing to do with any of that myself personally, and I don’t appreciate your implication that I did, so I have nothing further to discuss with you.”
Sadly, exchanges like this often spell the end of any meaningful dialogue between the two persons before it can even start, along with all chances for shared discovery, growth and understanding. In short, the failure here occurs on two levels: A failure to accurately perceive a reach as the reach that it is, and a failure to reciprocate that initial reach with a reach of understanding in response. While the full extent of what’s truly lost when this happens can never be known, it seems impossible to overstate its potential impact.
Reaching, Connecting, Fortifying
The intensity of this collective pain of opportunity lost does begin to wane when one considers the simplicity of the path to its abatement. An attentive moment of listening, an empathetic gesture of acknowledgement, a first step of ascent toward understanding. What I’ve taken from this conference more than anything else is that all these relatively small actions can form a very attainable foundation for potentially limitless growth – through open dialogue, clear communication of goals, and collaborative efforts in pursuit of those goals once those first two steps reveal just how closely aligned those goals so often tend to be.
Time and again through this conference, the fruits of such efforts were clearly on display. For example, partnerships forged in New Jersey and Virginia between major health systems, community leaders and leading real estate and residential development entities have already made substantial strides in creating safe, affordable housing in their respective communities. The positive impact of these stabilizing and economically sustainable collaborative projects is already being felt by their co-contributors, the homeowners they directly benefit, and their respective communities at large. In addition, both projects are already showing multiple signs of self-perpetuation – that the homeowners who have been helped by the opportunities provided are already beginning to assume roles vital in the process of bringing the next wave of new homeowners into the homes created.
Another example impossible to ignore is the notable collaboration between Cleveland’s three main health care systems that was the subject of Wednesday morning’s “Partnering to Invest in Communities” session. Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth, and University Hospitals all have made profound investments of time and resources into the idea of better serving their community by welcoming the community to tell them how to better serve their community. By reaching out to the community they serve; by listening to, learning and acknowledging the unpleasant truth that they were not serving their community as well as they could have been; and by starting to involve their community in decisions to be made going forward with direct impact on community healthcare availability, these three health systems were able to earn the trust of their community. Once trust was established, the collaboration began to take off. Plus, it should not go unsaid that these three health systems also incurred much better results after deciding to collaborate amongst themselves and work together to solve the problems they were all facing concurrently anyway!
Something I found to be particularly fascinating by the time the conference had ended was realizing how in two days my understanding of health equity had gone from a fairly abstract notion of balancing healthcare access more fairly to a multi-dimensional initiative that’s expanding dynamically throughout the country. And as a company offering software designed to help organizations measure and document the ways in which they positively impact their communities, we’ve noticed an increasing number of our healthcare clients starting to directly track specific Social Determinants of Health – the elemental units of measure for health equity as a whole. So, as we observe its expanding importance to our customers, we at Lyon Software have been all the more inspired to explore it further ourselves, and the 2022 Accelerating Health Equity Conference was a very vivid and enlightening way to continue that process. Our company is honored and delighted to have helped sponsor this conference, and I’m personally excited to see what its future may hold. To that point, I’m even MORE excited for the future of health equity itself. Awareness is growing, progress is being made, and results are infectious. The future is only there if you build it, so let’s build it together!