Equity in health care is becoming a greater priority at Sentara

Iris Lundy, the newly appointed Director of Health Equity for Sentara Healthcare. (WYDaily/Courtesy Sentara)
Iris Lundy, the newly appointed Director of Health Equity for Sentara Healthcare. (Southside Daily/Courtesy Sentara)

For those in the minority, walking into a hospital can be an entirely different experience than for others and Sentara is looking to change that.

“The time is now to learn about how inequities are affecting health care,” said Iris Lundy, the newly appointed Director of Health Equity for Sentara Healthcare. “I think we are at a critical stage that we have to debunk myths within [our] culture and create trust with patients and providers.”

While Sentara has looked at the ways equity impacts health care in the past, the organization created its first ever leadership position to address the issue in May. Dale Gauding, spokesman for Sentara, said this new position will shed more light onto the discrepancies in health care for minorities and marginalized groups, such as African Americans or those in the LGBTQ community.

Lundy, who is based out of Virginia Beach, will oversee all 12 of the health care facilities within Sentara’s system and will look at the ways each area has different issues in equity.

In a news release, Sentara said the discrepancies in equity is an issue that includes social health factors which, Lundy added, can include the socioeconomics of a community.

Nationally, data shows referral rates in health care create an issue for those in “socially deprived population groups,” which can impact these individuals overall health and leads to greater morbidity, according to a report from the US National Institute of Health.

In addition, the report showed those certain groups of individuals can have different specific health issues, such as higher rates of diabetes, that go under-treated.

An example of the inequity concerns is the maternity mortality rate for African American women, which are four more times likely to die during childbirth. 

Related story from our sister publication: Bundle of joy: Maternal mortality rates escalate, with dangers focused on black women

Lundy said she sees discrepancies in care for cases like diabetes or heart disease, among other aspects.

“One of the things we are working on is listening to what the patient is saying about their care,” she said. “I think [we can] use evidence-based guidelines to ensure we are providing the same care across the board.”

The topic of equity in health care is one close to Lundy’s heart she said, and that’s part of the reason why this position is so important to her. As an African American woman, Lundy witnessed some of these differences in health care when her mother died of a stroke at a young age and her father died of heart disease.

Lundy said she wants to look at both internal and external data regarding care, health issues and communities in order to best understand how these different pockets of diversity are receiving care. 

One of the ways Lundy plans to address those issues across the board is by continuing to grow community partnerships that help provide forms of health care even after a patient has left Sentara. 

“We want to make sure that the patient is going back to an environment that supports healthy living,” she said. “That means providing resources upstream. If you come here for good care but don’t go home to an environment that promotes healthy resources, how can we provide that?”

Lundy said some of that includes partnering with food banks or finding ways to provide transportation so individuals can return for follow-up appointments.

“That’s the kind of thing Iris is looking at,” Gauding said. “Creative solutions to knocking down barriers.”

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.