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UW Health CEO: Why our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion remains strong

University Hospital
Alan Kaplan

UW Health serves a four-part mission to provide direct patient care, educate the next generation of health care providers, conduct world-changing research, and improve the health of communities. Our more than 1,800 physicians and 24,000 staff serve 800,000 patients per year.  Our providers and staff dedicate themselves 24-7 to providing remarkable care to all of our patients. These are the values we embrace at UW Health.

There are long-standing health disparities for communities of color and LGBTQIA+ in Wisconsin and Illinois. Many causes exist for these disparities, such as inadequate access to health care, environmental factors, lack of financial resources, historically inequitable approaches to treatment, and racism. 

At UW Health we have a responsibility to address these health disparities. We are here to improve health outcomes and improve lives, not just engage in what has become a hyper-polarized debate. That means we need to take specific actions to improve health equity in the communities we serve. We are seeing the results of our actions. 

For example, we are addressing disparities in low birth weight for babies born to Black mothers, which is 14.6% compared to 6.2% of babies born to white mothers in Dane County. Our ConnectRx community partnership connects Black pregnant patients to community health resources. It has increased social determinants of health screening by 50% in 2023 resulting in 674 patients being referred for important (and often unmet) needs.

Since launching in 2020, our UW Health affinity groups (known as Employee Resource Groups) have grown to more than 300 members. These important networks, running the gamut from Latinx/e to Military Service, support belonging and increase cultural awareness. 

Our work to drive this tremendous progress is led by UW Health’s very capable and committed diversity, equity and inclusion team. They have created strong community partnerships for change while educating and empowering our employees to make their voices heard and be part of building a stronger, more equitable health system and community. 

Recently, UW Health came under attack from some in the media and on social media for the non-mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion trainings we make available to our employees. Many of the claims were inaccurate and vitriolic. Some individuals argued that UW Health should stop offering this training to our employees, saying that is not the role of a health system. 

I strongly disagree with that argument. We can’t improve without understanding the problem we are trying to address; and I expect our commitment to educating and training our staff on diversity, equity and inclusion will only strengthen in the years ahead.

Listening to all voices, those we may not fully understand and even those with whom we may disagree, is a constant part of our journey.  With a commitment to continuous learning and improvement, we regularly review our program and our training materials. While our trainings and our programs are critical tools in support of our diversity, equity and inclusion work, they are not perfect, and we often identify areas for improvement and make changes to ensure they position us well to serve our mission, stay true to our values and drive progress.

The world is constantly changing, as is our vibrant community. While our changing world does not impact our values, it does require us to constantly examine the strategies and methods we employ to ensure we have the right approaches and tools for driving progress.

As CEO of UW Health, I accept a responsibility for improving health equity, valuing diversity, and modeling inclusion. I look forward to continuing our journey of serving our patients and improving the health of the communities we serve.