George Floyd’s killing has pushed our country to a long overdue tipping point. Across the nation conversations about systemic racial injustice – that for too long were stigmatized and sidelined – are taking their rightful place at the forefront of public discourse.

The realities of racism and injustice have been the lived experience of Black Americans for far too long. To make lasting change we must shine a spotlight on inequities in all facets of society, including healthcare.

Disparities in health outcomes and life expectancy based on race are one of the greatest and most persistent challenges in U.S. healthcare today – a reality laid bare recently with sobering statistics demonstrating the disproportionate impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic for Black people and other people of color. Our own recently published study of COVID-19 patients at Sutter Health found Black Americans were hospitalized at nearly three times the rate of their non-Hispanic white counterparts, and that they access care when they are sicker and more likely to require hospitalization and ICU care. 

These findings – and the zip codes determined to be at greatest risk – correlate with a study we conducted in 2017 after observing higher emergency department usage among Black patients with asthma. We discovered that 72% of patients drove up to 8 miles to a hospital to access care, even though they lived within 1 mile of a clinic because of concerns with culturally competent care. With this insight, we developed community-based programs that have connected nearly 600 Black patients suffering from asthma attacks with a respiratory therapist so they could participate in an asthma control program. As a result, very few have returned to the emergency room.

Not only can this serve as a model for trusted outreach, education and treatment in a public health crisis like COVID-19, it underscores the need for health providers to invest in robust data generation and analysis to identify specific health disparities and what’s driving them. Only then can we truly hold ourselves accountable to eliminate these gaps, and it is the only way to affect the kind of change our patients need and deserve.

As a Northern California integrated healthcare network that serves more than 3.5 million patients in one of the most diverse regions in the country, we are working to understand the unique differences and needs of our patients so that we can develop targeted interventions specifically tailored to address them. We think every provider should do the same. It is why we are widely sharing a novel metric developed by our Advancing Health Equity team called the Health Equity Index, or HEI. The index uses analytics and dynamic applications of clinical and population data to measure a variety of health outcomes among different patient populations to identify potential disparities.

Racial disparities in healthcare are undeniable. As health care providers, we have a unique role and responsibility in addressing and dismantling systemic racism, and it begins with eliminating health disparities for our patients. Health equity is a measurement of care quality and we must hold ourselves accountable to achieve it.

Looking for solutions is not new to us, but as much as we have made it a priority, we have not done enough. None of us have. As the nation calls for change to dismantle the systemic racial injustice that has led to the unnecessary deaths of countless Black Americans, all healthcare providers, ourselves included, must do more to address the shameful inequities that exist in our healthcare systems. To the extent we are able to make a difference, we have a moral obligation to do so.

Originally published in CalMatters.


  • Sarah Krevans

    President and Chief Executive Officer at Sutter Health

    As president and CEO of Sutter Health, Sarah Krevans leads the network’s 24 hospitals, 53,000 employees, 14,000 clinicians, outpatient services, research facilities, home health and hospice care services, and business professionals. Under her guidance, Sutter Health is exploring new technologies and embracing creative, community-based healthcare programs to make healthcare more accessible, affordable, efficient and convenient for more than 3 million patients.   Recognizing her outstanding leadership, Krevans was named one of the “Top 25 Women Leaders” by Modern Healthcare, included on Modern Healthcare’s list of the “100 Most Influential People in Healthcare,” nominated as a “Visionary of the Year” by the San Francisco Chronicle and named one of the “Most Influential Women in Business” by the San Francisco Business Times.   She received her bachelor’s degree from Boston University, and earned an MBA and a master’s degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Stephen Lockhart, M.D., Ph.D.

    Chief Medical Officer, Sutter Health

    Stephen Lockhart, M.D., Ph.D., directs the quality and safety of Sutter’s patient care and oversees the research and education that drives Sutter Health’s innovation and healthcare advancement. Dr. Lockhart brings 30 years of impressive experience to Sutter Health’s integrated network — hospital administrator, board-certified anesthesiologist, university professor, published author and nationally recognized environmental steward and humanitarian.

    Dr. Lockhart is dedicated to understanding and addressing health equity as a key measure of healthcare quality. Most recently, he led the development and implementation of Sutter’s Health Equity Index, a groundbreaking tool that uses real-time health system data and external statistics to identify healthcare disparities and address their underlying causes.

    Dr. Lockhart was named in 2019 to the California Surgeon General’s Advisory Council focused on the study of adverse childhood experiences (ACES). Dr. Lockhart also served on Gov. Brown’s Advisory Committee on Precision Medicine as part of California’s continued effort to use advanced computing and technology to better understand, treat and prevent disease. He was featured by Becker's Healthcare in 2020 on their list of the "100 hospital and health system chief medical officers to know."

    He serves on the boards of the ECRI Institute, REI, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and is chairman of Parks California. A Rhodes scholar, Dr. Lockhart earned his master’s in economics at Oxford University and received his medical and doctoral degrees from Cornell University.