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How facility planning leaders can bring equity to their designs

By Lauren Woodrow

September 13, 2022

    Across the past couple years, we've seen the impacts of Covid-19 and racial injustice underscore immense inequities in the U.S. health care system. While leaders from every sector of the health care industry have made commitments to addressing equity, it's clear that reversing generations of inequity won't happen overnight.

    Why facility planners should pursue health equity

    Advancing health equity is a continual process that requires regular action. Every member of the health care industry must commit to sharing power and working together to make meaningful change. Facility planners are one piece of this larger puzzle.

    As the creators of health care facilities, you have major control over the placement, design, and accessibility of your buildings. You can use this power to steer clients towards more equitable decisions, building trust within their communities.

    Steps facility planners can take to make progress on the three pillars of health equity

    There are three intersecting pillars that define an equitable organization – creating a diverse workforce, ensuring equitable patient outcomes, and addressing community-wide social determinants of health. To make meaningful progress on health equity, leaders must ground their actions in all three pillars.

    1. Creating a diverse workforce

    Examine your internal workforce. Staff at all levels, including business leaders, should represent the community across all domains of diversity. HR leaders must redesign talent management processes by focusing on historically marginalized employees, including with salary adjustments, equitable mentorship, and advancement opportunities.

    Executives should equip staff and leaders to embrace discomfort and hold each other accountable for creating a culture where all employees feel included, respected, and valued.

    2. Ensuring equitable patient outcomes

    This may seem like a difficult pillar to address as you don't work with patients directly. But your facility design directly impacts patient outcomes. Encourage your clients and community leaders to consider questions such as these when considering new facilities:

    • Can patients easily access your facilities by public transportation?
    • Are you building new facilities in historically marginalized communities?
    • Are you building trust within your facility's community so that patients feel safe choosing your facility as their site of care?
    • Are you equipping facilities (especially those in rural areas) with the necessary telehealth infrastructure to aid patients who are unable to travel?

    All of these questions have implications for designing facilities that improve access and trust within the communities you serve. It's a potentially difficult conversation to have, but it's also a necessary one in order to advance health equity together.

    3. Addressing community-wide social determinants of health

    Architecture and facility firm leaders should partner with community-based organizations, local businesses, government, and industry stakeholders to sustainably address adverse social determinants of health in their communities.

    Opportunities include serving as an anchor institution to uplift the economic strength of the community by hiring locally, paying fair wages, and contracting with people of color and/or women-owned vendors.. If you interact with government at the local, state, and federal levels, advocate for policies that mitigate existing disparities and create new solutions to support equity.

    6 ways to show that you really mean it

    Finally, in order to ensure efforts don't fall short, I'd recommend keeping these six steps in mind to further accelerate equity at your organization and externally:

    1. Bring as much strategic rigor to health equity as any other initiative.
    2. Move past passion projects and short-term wins to address long-term root causes.
    3. Allocate ample resources to equity efforts while embedding equity into all parts of the organization.
    4. Tie equity to all staff and leadership goals including compensation and performance.
    5. Expand partnerships beyond community-based organizations to stakeholders across the industry, including competitors.
    6. Ensure the organization and partners are accountable for progress within the workforce, patient outcomes, and the communities served.

    Making a meaningful community impact will take long-term commitments, meaningful performance indicators, and solutions that can scale. Leaders will need to commit to transparency and lead with vulnerability to make this work, but the long-term results are well worth it.

    3 pillars of an equitable health care organization

    imageTo make meaningful progress on health equity, leaders must ground their actions in three comprehensive and interconnecting pillars.

    Each segment of the health care industry has a role to play—here are just a few ways to start bridging the equity gap.

    Download the infographic

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