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CommonSpirit Health invests in kindness to improve patient outcomes

Article

The system has launched a $50 million campaign to finance a new institute to improve health equity, and kindness is key. Alisahah Jackson, the institute’s president, talks with Chief Healthcare Executive about the initiative.

Alisahah Jackson, president of CommonSpirit Health's Lloyd H. Dean Institute for Humankindness & Health Justice

Alisahah Jackson, president of CommonSpirit Health's Lloyd H. Dean Institute for Humankindness & Health Justice

Alisahah Jackson says she grew up in a family that was very involved in the community.

She recounted her grandmother repeatedly saying, “Everyone deserves grace.”

Now, Jackson is in a position to help see that more people get the grace they deserve. She is leading an initiative at CommonSpirit Health that aims to use kindness to improve healthcare and close disparities in patient care.

In November, CommonSpirit Health named Jackson as the president of the new Lloyd H. Dean Institute for Humankindness & Health Justice. CommonSpirit has launched a $50 million fundraising campaign to support the institute, which is named for former CommonSpirit Health CEO Lloyd Dean.

“We have this unique opportunity to step in and fill a gap,” Jackson tells Chief Healthcare Executive. “We all deserve kindness and all deserve grace.”

Jackson speaks passionately about the power of kindness to improve outcomes, and why she thinks it’s a critical component in improving health equity. She spoke with Chief Healthcare Executive about the plans for the institute, closing disparities, and meeting the needs of communities.

“I’m very excited to lead this institute,” she says. “It's a critically important time.”

Goals for the institute

Before taking her new post, Jackson served as CommonSpirit’s vice president for population health innovation and policy. She previously served as Atrium Health’s chief community impact officer.

Jackson bemoans the loss of civility in daily life. “We’re more digitally connected but socially isolated,” Jackson says.

But kindness can lead to better healthcare, and Jackson says the institute is going to pave the way.

Jackson says the institute is going to focus on four key areas: funding research into how kindness in health settings can improve outcomes; building healthier communities, focusing on the most vulnerable; improving the diversity of the healthcare workforce; and accelerating research to eliminate disparities in health outcomes.

“We really believe that health justice starts with human kindness,” Jackson says.

She says there are decades of research centered on the role kindness can play in improving health. Stanford University has found kindness and empathy has led to faster healing and reduced pain. Patients who perceive they had compassionate care also tend to do a better job of adhering to medication and treatment plans, Jackson says.

Health systems need to offer “culturally compassionate competent care,” Jackson says.

Even if a doctor or nurse can’t walk in someone else’s shoes, Jackson says, “We can recognize and validate that someone else is different.”

The institute will work on guiding employees on recognizing implicit biases, which all people have, Jackson says.

But she says it’s heartening to see how people want to change as they learn more about implicit bias.

“I have been extremely amazed when you bring data forward to our providers, how they respond to that,” she says.

Measuring success

It’s going to be critically important to measure outcomes, Jackson says.

In the short-term, she says, as the system demonstrates more empathy and kindness toward patients, patient experience scores can be measured to see if there’s a change. Questions on patient surveys can be added related to kindness and compassion.

In the broader goal of building healthier communities, the system can also analyze data of patients throughout the course of their lives to get a better snapshot of where disparities exist and where interventions can improve their health.

“This is where healthcare is very unique,” Jackson says. “We do often have lifetime relationships with patients. We should be able to track data over a long period of time.

“As we are starting to address these community needs,” she says, “are we seeing an improvement in their actual health outcomes?”

CommonSpirit has an immense amount of data on patients now, Jackson says, so the system doesn’t necessarily need to gather a lot more information.

But she says there’s room to improve the analysis of that data to get a better understanding of gaps in health in underserved communities.

‘Health equity and social justice’

More health systems are focusing on health equity, and Jackson says leaders looking to make a difference should “educate themselves around health justice.’

“We look at it as health equity and social justice,” Jackson says.

Healthcare leaders should examine their own organizations and assess their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, she says. Many hospitals and health systems are the largest employers in their communities. Leaders should see if workers from all backgrounds are getting the chance to grow and move up the economic ladder.

Hospitals and health systems also need to take a broader look at the health of their communities.

“It’s a shift on how you think about the care you’re providing to a community, moving from just providing clinical care to providing care that creates the healthiest community possible,” Jackson says.

Health systems need to look at other factors affecting health, such as food insecurity.

Many communities have “food deserts,” where residents have a dearth of grocery stores. It’s not an issue of food supply, but food distribution, Jackson says. And that is also something health systems must work to address.

“We’re not the experts in food distribution,” Jackson says. “We can bring those experts to the table.”

“We know children who are food insecure perform poorly in school,” Jackson says, adding, “We’re here to be willing partners to think about how we are addressing food insecurity.”

CommonSpirit is working with community organizations to assess the needs in the regions they serve, including areas such as food and housing insecurity, Jackson says.

Health systems must tackle the systemic problems that are preventing too many people from the good health, and good lives, they deserve, Jackson says.

“We have systems that are built that are perpetuating inequity,” she says.

But Jackson adds, “Systems can be changed.”


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