Episcopal Health Foundation's Equity Journey
Over the years, EHF has undertaken various activities to help staff explore and understand the terms diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and what they mean at the individual level and for EHF’s externally-facing work. In 2019, EHF formed an Equity Workgroup comprised of staff from across the organization to help advance equity as a framework at the enterprise level, support staff in their own journey to deepen their understanding of equity matters, and develop ways in which to more intentionally operationalize the values expressed in EHF’s Strategic Plan regarding equity.
To establish a common definition of health equity, EHF adopted the following definition of health equity developed by Paula Braveman for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: “Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.”
The diagram below illustrates EHF’s journey as we leaned in to being more intentional in viewing potential investments through a health equity lens. Although the genesis of much of this work occurred in 2019 or earlier, the timing of these efforts occurred during a nexus point that coincided with the heightened call for racial justice across the country and the increased public awareness of the impact of health disparities made more apparent because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
EHF’s Strategic Plan mentions the word “equity” or “health equity” 11 times. The Strategic Plan further states that “…we rely on health equity as a central guiding principle that directs our approach” and that “…we view all of our potential investments through a health equity lens.”
Notwithstanding this language, except for a portion of the work undertaken by its Congregational Engagement team, the staff could not identify other areas of the foundation’s work where EHF consistently or explicitly applied a “health equity lens.”
That’s why EHF’s Equity Workgroup developed a goal statement to help guide this work:
Rooted in faith and active in hope, EHF is uniquely positioned to build bridges of health and wholeness alongside communities, valuing participation of all groups and honoring all human dignity. In recognition of our commitment to health equity, we align our policies, practices, and resources so that all people have genuine opportunities to thrive.
In keeping with this commitment, as outlined in the Strategic Plan, EHF will:
1. Prioritize support for individual staff to develop the capacity to explore health equity
2. Operationalize internal practices
3. Adopt a specific and actionable health equity plan by which EHF will hold itself accountable for both internal and external development
In support of the first goal, EHF established equity circles – small cohorts of staff across divisions to help individuals delve deeper into issues related to equity. Staff also participated in a six-week program focusing on implicit bias. The small groups meet on an on-going basis, with an equity-based topic to help with discussion, to allow staff to continue learning in a small group setting where staff can establish trust and vulnerability. While the equity circles are a dedicated space for supporting individual staff growth and development on equity, we have also identified other opportunities as appropriate such as staff learning conversations, all-staff meetings, staff retreats, and individual professional development goals.
Equity Audit & Implementation Metrics
To address the second and third goals, members of the Equity Workgroup facilitated an equity audit of the organization’s work to identify the areas where EHF strengthen its commitment to health equity.
Through the equity audit, EHF looked at how health equity manifests itself in the work of the foundation and the work within the foundation. Each division conducted a review of its work to identify opportunities and gaps in how diversity, equity, and inclusion practices are represented and ways to further advance its work towards the goal of health equity. Further, each division developed more detailed plans for implementation, and metrics by which EHF can measure progress.
Leadership and staff recognize that this effort is a journey, not a destination, and that to support the organization for this journey, we need to recognize where we are and what we need to do to get to where we want to go. EHF established metrics to help us fully realize the vision to establish health equity as a central guiding principle that directs our approach, as stated in our strategic plan. The defined metrics will be reviewed periodically and reported to EHF’s Board of Directors twice a year.