MaineHealth: Actively Commit to Public Health Anti-Racism

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In the last few months, the country and world have watched the horrors of racism become more publicized in our communities. The murders of Ahmad Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have catalyzed antiracist efforts to both name the racism inherent to the criminal justice and other institutional systems and advocate for policy to eliminate such racism.

MaineHealth is the largest private employer in Maine, and serves over 1.1 million individuals in our communities. As was the case with many organizations in the midst of June’s mass demonstrations for antiracism, MaineHealth leadership released a statement responding to the actions. The full statement can be found at the conclusion of this petition.

The statement indicates that there is a general concern and sadness felt surrounding Mr. Floyd’s murder, and that MaineHealth is dedicated to ensuring a workplace free of racism and other forms of discrimination. These are undoubtedly important concepts to vocalize and stand by.  However, we believe that the most impactful statements scribed by organizations during this time have offered more substantial detail and action steps. The statement mentions that this is an “especially painful time for our African-American community” and that there is “bias” in our society without substantially naming how such pain or bias exists. There was no specific mention to how these concepts have historically existed nor specific examples of how they subsist in the present day.

The absence of acknowledgment that racism in public health institutions is specifically disconcerting. Black communities have historically faced medical discrimination such as forced experimentation, sterilization, and harmful systemic myths, such as a prevailing notion that black folks “feel less pain.” In the present day, black communities have lower life expectancy, are less likely to have access to comprehensive health insurance, face alarmingly higher rates of infant mortality, and are more likely to have diabetes, cardiovascular complications, and hypertension. Black individuals are more likely to be poor, to be incarcerated or have family members that have been incarcerated, to be homeless, and to be in foster systems. Black individuals are more likely to have experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to generational and ongoing institutional trauma.

The statement explains: “we will always be challenged to do better when it comes to confronting and eliminating any bias that exists in our society and every organization within it” and that the organization is dedicated to “combating racism and creating a diverse and welcoming workplace,” but do not offer specific, measurable action steps for doing so. Surely, the largest healthcare organization in the state of Maine has a significant responsibility to name public health racial disparities as they are and speak to concrete ways to mitigate such disparities.

We understand there are currently internal dialogues among senior leadership happening to address Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). These internal efforts have not yet been made public to employees or community members. We hope that these internal efforts do not stop at simply addressing DEI, but actively pursue antiracism. We, including employees under MaineHealth’s myriad systems of care, patients and clients across Maine and New Hampshire, and concerned community members ask the following action steps of MaineHealth as part of a long-term commitment to pursue antiracism in our communities:

1)      We ask that you establish a working group to identify all the ways in which MaineHealth can contribute to addressing racism and health disparities for people of color in our communities. This working group would examine the scope and possibility of the following actions steps, as well as any alterations or additions, recognizing the following list is by no means an exhaustive list of antiracist action steps. This working group should ideally be comprised of 100% black, indigenous, and/or people of color (BIPOC), or as close to 100% as possible.

2)      We ask that you release a new public, company wide-statement that captures the deep history of white supremacy in this country and the specific racial disparities of public health systems, some of which are captured in the letter above. We ask that this statement affirms that “Black Lives Matter” and speaks to MaineHealth’s dedication to these action steps.

3)      We ask that you establish a specific task force to improving healthcare access to the uninsured and underinsured with the end goal of expanding health insurance coverage for our most vulnerable Mainers (a disproportionate amount of whom are people of color) by a specific metric over the next two years.

4)      We ask that you establish a specific task force to mitigate the impacts of Coronavirus on communities of color with the end-goal of minimizing the racial disparities in rates of Coronavirus by a specific metric over the next year.

5)      We ask that you write formal requests to the police departments of Portland, Biddeford, Sanford, South Portland, Westbrook, Brunswick, and Rockland to re-allocate a certain amount of each city’s current police budget into the city’s public health/human services budget to further support our most vulnerable community members struggling with mental health and/or substance use challenges.

6)      We ask that you establish several “Cultural Broker” job positions within the organization, whose main job description should include the facilitation of culturally-competent care to MaineHealth’s refugee and immigrant patients, ensuring trauma-sensitive and culturally-relevant care to such populations. The number of Cultural Brokers required should be based on the make-up of MaineHealth’s patient population.

7)      We ask that you implement tracking for hiring practices, gathering data to track any racial disparities in MaineHealth’s workforce. We ask that Human Resources and Talent Acquisition enact specific policies to recruit and hire more candidates of color, especially for leadership positions.

8)      We ask that you enact policy increasing standards for yearly training for all MaineHealth staff pertaining to culturally-competent care, internal bias, interpersonal antiracism, racism in medicine, and systems-level antiracism advocacy, preferably from organizations run and staffed by people of color. Additionally, we ask you to enact specific training for managers and leaders on how to foster a safe and welcoming workplace for people of color and ensure they know how to support their care team members who are people of color.

9)      We ask that the MaineHealth policy team enacts a standardized process within their legislative advocacy committee, behavioral health advisory committee, and clinical advisory committee for assessing the impact on communities of color for each piece of legislation the organization considers supporting, and this assessment is reflected in legislative testimony.

10)  We ask that you actively ensure people of color have significant representation on MaineHealth’s Board of Directors.

If MaineHealth believes any of these action steps cannot be met, we ask that you specifically address why they cannot be met.

MaineHealth has a specific responsibility with its reach and resources to improve public health outcomes for people of color. These are direct ways to make a profound difference. We ask that you recognize the incredible impact these action steps would have towards moving towards the company’s mission statement and company values, and on improving the lives of our incredible black healthcare professionals, clients, and community members.

Because Black Lives Matter.

**Petition signers – in addition to signing this petition, you can help by calling MaineHealth CEO William Caron at (207) 661-7001 and President Rich Petersen at (207) 662-8491 and speak to why you as an employee, patient, and/or community member believe the aforementioned action steps are crucial to the health and well-being of our communities.**


Original Statement from MaineHealth CEO William Caron and President Rich Petersen:

“Hello Everyone,

Like all of you, we have watched events unfold in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis with concern and anguish, and we feel it is important at this time to reaffirm our commitment to combating racism and creating a diverse and welcoming workplace.

We want to make clear that our commitment to care for all families of every configuration, color and faith and to support care team members of every background means that we stand unequivocally with the African American community as well as our black patients and our black employees. Our values of respect, integrity, excellence, ownership, innovation and being patient centered demand nothing less.

At MaineHealth we are committed to a workplace that is welcoming and free of discrimination. We also want you to know that we recognize this work will never be finished, and we will always be challenged to do better when it comes to confronting and eliminating any bias that exists in our society and every organization within it.

This is an especially painful time for the African American community, which has felt the brunt not just of Mr. Floyd’s death, but the many that have come before under similar circumstances. We support people’s right to peaceful protest in the wake of these events, even as we condemn acts of destruction and violence.

As the primary health care provider for 1.1 million people in Maine and Carroll County, N.H., we at MaineHealth have a special responsibility to the communities we serve. Amidst the ugliness and turmoil, we still have to do our jobs and support our patients and their families.

But all of us should remember that an important part of that job is delivering that care with compassion and the utmost respect for others, including our fellow care team members. Please know that our Employee Assistance Program resources are available to any care team member seeking help in this difficult time. Also, we recognize the need for, and would encourage, honest and constructive dialogue as we work to live out our values and continue our progress.

This is an especially difficult time for those among us who live daily with the burdens of racism. They deserve our support as we work every day to make our communities the healthiest in America.

With respect,
William Caron, CEO
Rich Petersen, President