Health systems can play important roles in helping Black communities build wealth, according to Penn Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) experts in a commentary published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“Health systems have a choice to make: continue with the status quo or reposition themselves as essential actors in closing the racial wealth gap,” says Eugenia South, the paper’s first author, an assistant professor of emergency medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine and faculty director of Penn Medicine’s Urban Health Lab. “Large, sustained, societal investments are the only way to address the gap, and health systems have a moral obligation to join the movement.”
South and co-authors George Dalembert, a pediatrician in CHOP’s Care Network and medical director of CHOP’s Medical Financial Partnership, and Atheendar Venkataramani, an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy and director of the Opportunity for Health Lab at Penn Medicine, cited data showing that Black Americans comprise about 13% of the U.S. population but hold only about 3% of the country’s wealth. Moreover, in 2019, the median net worth of white American families was $188,200—several times greater than the $24,100 median net worth of Black American families. Structural racism embedded in both historical and present-day policies and practices both contribute to the racial wealth gap.
While no single institution can solve the problem alone, the authors suggest that health systems are uniquely positioned in several ways to help Black patients, staff members, and neighborhoods in building wealth, a term which generally includes job income, savings, investments, and similar assets or revenue.
“Health systems are well positioned to directly promote wealth building among Black staff, patients, and communities,” South says. “For example, the health care sector is the largest U.S. employer and the largest employer of Black Americans, but Black staff members are often among the lowest-paid employees and have the worst health outcomes. In addition, health systems help to drive their local economies, with both job opportunities and purchasing power.”
The authors recommended several strategies health care systems can utilize, including reducing expenses, maximizing income, decreasing debt and increasing savings, and pathways for “frictionless” access to wealth-building products and services.
Read more at Penn Medicine News.