Racial Healing as a Step Toward Health Equity

Aaron Webb
CEO of CHI Living Communities

In this edition of Insights, we share our recent conversation with Aaron Webb, CEO CHI Living Communities, a dynamic leader with an inspiring life and career who joined CommonSpirit Health last year. He offers his perspective on racial healing and health equity, coping with the stresses of the pandemic and social unrest the past year, and how he stays healthy physically, mentally and spiritually.

What is “racial healing” and why is it so important?

Racial healing is a concept that acknowledges racial injury. Without injury there would be no need for healing. America is the best country on the face of the earth. I truly believe that. While I can proudly proclaim that statement based on my family’s proud history of military service and wonderful opportunities afforded to me because I am American, I can simultaneously admit that our painful history surrounding race in America has caused historical and present day racial divides. Those racial divides frequently cause cultural misunderstanding.

Racial healing involves creating room for open and honest conversations without judgment and the fear of saying the “wrong thing.” Once safe spaces are created for open communication, it takes patience and being willing to be vulnerable to make progress. I am confident that when people sit down and talk, and see one another as human beings who have important life experiences, healing is possible.

It is imperative that racial healing takes place in order for society to work together to address matters of importance. We are in the middle of a pandemic, economic uncertainty, and political unrest. Racial healing enables us to work together in a way that solves issues for everyone to address imbalances and disparities.

Can you address how achieving health equity calls for social justice?

There is no doubt that health inequities exist in America and are influenced by factors such as income, geography, education, genetics and race. Upon further examination of these social determinants of health, there is a common denominator between them all. That common denominator is the absence of social justice. It is my belief that health equity is not likely to become a reality without social justice.

Social justice is achieved when all members of a society have equal access to economic mobility, excellent health care, quality education and fair treatment of the law. So, until we figure out how to foster social justice, health inequalities will continue to exist. The impact of health inequity is profound and generational in nature.

I am proud to be a leader within an organization that has the goal of social justice in its mission statement. CommonSpirit recognizes that without social justice there can be no health equity. As a result, we are leading several nationwide initiatives to help achieve health equity. Most recently, CommonSpirit announced a 10 year, $100 million dollar partnership with the Morehouse School of Medicine to help fuel health equity.

As a leader, how is self-care critical, when considering how challenging 2020 was? What would you suggest for those who grapple with the real challenges of the pandemic, civil unrest, racial tension and stress?

The stress of the past 12 months is real and unprecedented in our life time. A once in 100 years pandemic, combined with political and civil unrest, and underscored by chronic racial tension has led many to feel the powerfully debilitating effects of stress and anxiety. The isolation that is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has only served to exacerbate an already bad situation. However, there are reasons to be hopeful.

First, we work for a faith-based organization. The blessing of working for this health care ministry is that we recognize that there is a higher power in which we place our hopes and fears. I frequently encourage team members and employees to take time to pray for themselves, our patients and one another. We are so lucky to have Mission Integration leaders in our organization to help attend to the spiritual needs of our patients and employees. We should rely on our strong faith to help us deal with the stress of our current times.

In addition to faith and prayer, I encourage daily exercise. I start most of my days with a jog along the river listening to my favorite music as I enjoy the beauty of nature. I sometimes stop to walk and take pictures of beauty along the way. Not only is that a way to remain calm and grateful for what God has created, it also has excellent health benefits. Endorphins are released when we exercise and they feel amazing!

Next, remember to use technology to stay connected with family and friends. FaceTime and other technology enable us to virtually share family time and laughter with friends. Phone calls also work, but there is something unique about seeing the people you love while you are talking with them. I encourage scheduling time to do joint activities over technology with a small group of no more than three or four people. It is helpful to purchase a tri-pod so you can remain hands free. My family and I have virtual dinners and happy hours with our friends and family all over the country and it is fulfilling.

Having participated in Meaningful Conversations and shared your personal lived experience with those you work with during this critical time, what would you recommend to our colleagues across the ministry?

I would recommend that we continue to have open dialogue with one another to share our personal experiences to help one another through these stressful times. When I share my relevant experiences with others, I am blessed by the conversation that ensues. As a result, not only do I get other perspectives on my situations, by being vulnerable, I usually gain a deeper friendship.

CommonSpirit offers support and guidance with two very effective groups. First, the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging can help employees learn how to support social justice initiatives. Next, we have a department of behavioral health specialists to help counsel with stressful matters that have become medical or psychological in nature. They may offer guidance or refer you to our Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Want to check out the wide array of cultural celebrations held during February? Find our summary here. And click here for more information about the Days of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Belonging and our Federal Heritage and Health Equity Months at CommonSpirit Health.

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