In 2022, Central Health decided to make “equity” mean something, and every year going forward. This required a plan. And not just a few pieces of paper that get lost in a drawer, but a comprehensive plan drawn from months of talking to the community, interviewing real people, delving into hard data, and recognizing our own failures. The culmination of this work came in February, when the Board of Managers unanimously approved the Healthcare Equity Plan. This plan is the cornerstone of all our work for years to come. It identifies opportunities for Central Health to continue to expand its reach and strengthen the impact on the health and wellness of Travis County’s most marginalized populations – especially communities of color.
“The board adoption of our Equity-focused Service Delivery Strategic Plan will, near-term and over time, improve the lives of the patients Central Health serves,” Central Health President & CEO Mike Geeslin said after it was approved. “The effects of this work will be felt for years to come as we now have the framework in place to identify where the most significant gaps in care exist, and what needs to be done to eliminate the inequities that hamper our safety-net health care system. This plan represents a monumental achievement for Central Health, and we are excited to get to work.”
Healthcare closer to home
While it was the first step, the Healthcare Equity Plan was hardly the only effort made to improve equity in healthcare.
Central Health broke ground on two new health & wellness centers in East Travis County, traditionally one of the more underserved parts of the county. By adding new centers in Del Valle and Hornsby Bend, two of the fastest growing and most diverse areas in Eastern Travis County, residents of those areas can be served closer to home and will have less wait times to see a healthcare professional. Both centers will open in 2023.
Additionally, Central Health is renovating the Rosewood-Zaragosa Health Center into a specialty clinic that will open in late 2023. Once it opens, the clinic will be open for referrals in six specialty disciplines: cardiology, podiatry, pulmonology, neurology, nephrology, and gastroenterology. Many of our patients have complex chronic conditions that require specialty care to manage. This clinic and the physicians, nurses, and support staff who will operate it will help them live better, healthier lives.
Breaking barriers to care for LGBTQIA+ patients
Another area in which Central Health looks to break barriers is the care of LGBTQIA+ patients. Over the summer, the Central Health Equity Policy Council (CHEP) launched an initiative to use the Healthcare Equality Index, a national benchmarking tool created by the Human Rights Council to evaluate healthcare in the LGBTQIA+ community. Historically, LGBTQIA+ patients receive worse care and therefore have worse healthcare outcomes than other patients. According to the HEI 2022 report, LGBTQIA+ patients face significant challenges in healthcare: 56% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people surveyed report experiences of serious discrimination in healthcare, while 70% of transgender people surveyed report serious discrimination. Central Health united several area healthcare organizations to pledge to use the index in patient care.
“The healthcare needs of LGBTQIA+ patients with low income here in Travis County aren’t always being met,” said Mike Geeslin, President & CEO of Central Health. “By joining the Healthcare Equality Index, local healthcare providers like Central Health will close gaps and help make certain all of their patients are treated with fairness, compassion and respect.”
Building a diverse workforce
Central Health is deeply committed to creating and nurturing a workforce culture that recognizes, honors, and celebrates diversity, equity, and inclusion. In June 2021, the Central Health Board of Managers adopted Shared Commitments that publicly acknowledge that systematic racism is the root of health inequities and poor health outcomes in our community. This year, Central Health launched the Employee Diversity and Inclusion Council, a new training program for our entire team to create a culturally responsive environment at work, promote conversations regarding unconscious bias and address health inequities.
Bilingual health champions workshops
To increase the inclusiveness of Community Health Champions, our annual program to learn about, discuss, and collaborate on our work to improve the health of Central Texas, Central Health has implemented training for the Class of 2022 in both English and Spanish. We know that more than 60% of all our MAP members and patients speak Spanish as their primary language and removing that language barrier is a critical step in reaching a wider audience and helping community members who don’t speak English join us in our mission.
Finally, in November, Dr. Audrey Kuang, Central Health’s director of high-risk populations, was named Humanitarian of the Year by the Travis County Medical Society (TCMS) at the group’s annual awards dinner. Dr. Kuang joined Central Health in 2022 and was among the first physicians hired by the hospital district to provide direct care to patients, specializing in care for Travis County’s unhoused population.
“I am incredibly grateful to TCMS for this great honor and am deeply humbled by this recognition,” Dr. Kuang said. “Homelessness puts a face to all the broken and dysfunctional systems that exist, and my greatest joy comes from seeing our community come together with the resources we each must help relieve suffering, address inequity, and help our patients reach their goals. This award is not possible without Central Health’s incredible support and CommunityCare’s Healthcare for the Homeless team, which is doing the work on the frontlines, rain, or shine, fighting for our patients and for health equity.”
These are just a few of the concrete examples of how Central Health is making progress in rectifying inequities in our local healthcare system. We recognize our role and our responsibility and will continue to identify and eliminate those inequities through planning, collaboration, and hard work.