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Q&A: OSF's Roxanna Crosser discusses inequities in health care

OSF exterior
Jeff Smudde

Inequity in health care is real.

Despite the notion that all patients should be treated equally, that's often not the case. Just look at the rate of maternal mortality for Black women in the United States. Black mothers are nearly four times as likely as their white or Hispanic counterparts to die in childbirth. Advocates like tennis star Serena Williams say a lack of access to affordable health care and discrimination by medical providers are driving that disparity.

Through analysis of patient data, Peoria-based OSF HealthCare has identified another disparity. The organization found that across its system, the risk of heart failure and hospital re-admissions are higher for Black patients. According to an open letter co-authored by OSF Western Region CEO Roxanna Crosser, that discovery points to a need for change.

Roxanna Crosser is the CEO of OSF Healtcare
Roxanna Crosser is the CEO of the Western Region of OSF HealthCare.

Health care systems, including OSF, are falling short of fulfilling their responsibilities to all patients, according to Crosser. In response, OSF has formed Health Equity Action Council that will work with partners like the NAACP on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Crosser explained that efforts toward equity have to start at the top.

“We’re spending a lot of time right now talking to our leaders and really having them understand their own internal biases,” she said. That includes education for physicians, who Crosser says have been spending time examining ways bias may affect their interaction with patients.

“We all believe we treat all individuals the same,” Crosser said, but working though an understanding of where biases may lie is critical step in addressing the problem.

“It's hard to make those changes,” Crosser said. ”But as we understand those and talk through those, we really are seeing the impact of the differences there.”

Crosser said OSF is also analyzing demographics with the goal of comparing OSF’s organizational makeup with that of the communities it serves. Crosser acknowledged that trust between patients and providers is important and sees the value in recruiting physicians from a diverse range of backgrounds.

Communication is another key component of care and Crosser said OSF acknowledges room for improvement.

“Healthcare has this incredible tendency to use these acronyms or letters, and (think) that everybody has to understand our language,” she said. Patients may struggle to trust their providers when they can’t understand what’s being said, according to Crosser.

Providers also need to do a better job of listening to their patients, Crosser said. And without drilling down into such fundamental aspects of human interaction, serving all sections of the community won’t be possible.

“We talk about health equity and say yes, we're fair and we're equitable. And we always were there to serve each person no matter of their race, color and economic status,” Crosser said. “But now we really know that there are inequities, and we need to know how to address and work with our communities to improve that.”

This article has been corrected to reflect Roxanna Crosser's title. She is CEO of the Western Region of OSF HealthCare.

Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
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