Diversity and inclusion in healthcare

By Ben Keeton

Until recently, I did not know that the Falls City Medical Society existed. In 1902, the Falls City Medical Society was formed in response to a growing number of black physicians in Louisville. These physicians, left out of the segregated medical societies, desired to have a forum for the exchange of ideas, the distillation of thoughts and the establishment of goals for the medical community.

The first tangible result of this society was the establishment of the Red Cross Hospital, which served the community from 1907 to 1976. It developed a nurses training school, a cancer clinic, appropriate surgical, medical and obstretric-gynecology services to serve the underserved minority community.

The physicians and healthcare practitioners in the community recognized that a group of people did not have equal access to the healthcare system, based on the color of their skin. They set out to begin the process to bring equity and access to healthcare for blacks, both for the patients and those hoping to serve the patients.

Equalizing Education

According to the article “Fall City Medical Society and The Black Physician in Louisville,” The Fall City Medical Society was in the forefront of the new battleground to equalize the educational and professional opportunities for its members, to dissolve the artificial barriers that impede equal quality of care for all.

In 1952 the first black student was admitted to the University of Louisville Medical School; Dr. Joseph Alexander received his MD degree in 1956, finishing third in his class. In 1953, Dr. Maurice Rabb, Sr., was admitted to the Jefferson County Medical Society, opening the doors to integration of hospital staffs. Also, in 1953, Dr. Grace James and Dr. Orville Ballard were appointed as clinical instructors on the staff of the University of Louisville Medical School.

The hand of the Fall City Medical Society was in the background of all these achievements, with negotiation winning the day after litigation had been threatened.

Gaps Revealed

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed significant gaps in access to treatment for minorities, highlighting the uncomfortable truth that your zip code plays a significant role in your longevity of life. This is compounded with community protests, leading organizations in our community to evaluate their roll in increasing diversity and inclusion in healthcare and creating an environment that will provide equal access to all citizens.

Over the past several weeks, many organizations have been implementing new programs to help bring equity in healthcare. For example, Tino Mkorombindo recently launched Greater Influence Inc., a nonprofit that serves as a resource for minority students who plan to pursue a career in medicine. As a third-year medical student at the University of Louisville, Mkorombindo wants to create a space that ensures all students, from high school through medical school, have the tools they need to excel.

The University of Kentucky has implemented the Inclusive Health Partnerships (IHP). This program is a collaboration among UK’s Office for Institutional Diversity, UK’s six health colleges and UK’s HealthCare enterprise focused on increasing critical dialogues about and action related to diversity, inclusion and belonging. IHP seeks to support students, faculty and staff with diverse backgrounds and identities as well as engage current and future healthcare providers in continuing education focused on health equity.

The Humana Foundation is committing to health equity, funding programs that bring community members and leaders together to create improved and sustained positive health outcomes and working towards stronger and healthier communities. Norton Healthcare recently announced a five-step plan to address healthcare and racial inequalities.

Going forward, Medical News will continue to examine the roll of diversity and inclusion in healthcare. We will provide space for commentary and discussion as well as examine programs (new and old) that our innovative companies and providers and implementing to help address the problems in our community.