When John Daniels, an African-American business and legal expert, would attend conferences for the directors of health boards, he’d often be the only Black participant, even though he knew there were others in the field—and that they were uniquely positioned to tackle health disparities in minority communities. So, as he told Becker’s Hospital Review, he decided to launch the Black Directors Health Equity Agenda (BDHEA), a coalition dedicated to changing the industry from within.

“As best I can determine, it is the largest organization of African-American directors of health systems in the country,” said Daniels, chairman emeritus of the law firm Quarles & Brady and chair of the Advocate Aurora Health board of directors.

The group now boasts over 300 members and, according to a recent tweet, aims “to eliminate health disparities that disproportionately impact Black communities and ultimately advance health equity for all.”

BDHEA’s focus, Daniels explained in Becker’s, “is to identify certain disease states that affect African-Americans more predominantly and to develop actionable efforts to address those things, to increase the talent in the pipeline of diverse individuals in the health ecosystem and to drive efforts around solving social determinants of health by looking in a much more unique way that those things happen outside of health systems walls, that can really have a direct impact.”

On BDHEA.org, the group elaborates:

“The BDHEA seeks to use our unique platform to advance work in ways that are likely to result in long-term, sustainable reductions in health disparities. To achieve this, we will:

  • Articulate the business case for addressing the health disparities that impact Black people and other communities of color,

  • Foster increased collaboration among top health systems to share best practices and synergies,

  • Ensure equitable access to care (with a focus, most immediately, on vaccine education and delivery), and

  • Address social determinants of health, including housing, food insecurity, education and employment, through meaningful, yet practical programs while advocating for policies that can have a long-term, positive impact.

We believe the most effective route to eliminating disparity is a multi-pronged approach that looks at the needs of the whole person and seeks solutions that build on existing, effective programs while examining new ideas.… To this end, we’re looking to promote data-informed strategies that:

  • Ensure access to high-quality care

  • Establish culturally appropriate care delivery networks

  • Invest in/partner with other organizations to identify long-lasting mechanisms to help diminish the impacts of social determinants of health, and

  • Identify/educate burgeoning leaders to increase the number of Black directors/senior executive leaders on Boards and within organizations committed to ending health disparity and inequity.”

One of DHEA’s successful initiatives is its director’s playbook, which was created in collaboration with Deloitte Health Care. “It is a compilation of material that helps people in the boardroom ask the right questions to cause management to develop a much more effective approach around eliminating health inequity,” Daniels explained to Becker’s. “Health systems around the country have started using the playbook and sort of developing it for their own particular institution.”

The group has also partnered with the Propel Center to launch the HBCU Health Equity Internship Program to help Black students develop leadership skills that promote equity and inclusiveness in the medical workforce.

“The Propel-BDHEA internship program addresses the urgent need to recruit and train Black professionals and to give them pathways to leadership in our nation’s top health care organizations,” BDHEA board member and executive sponsor Michele Richardson said in a press announcement about the internships. “The dearth of Black doctors impacts health care. Most Black adults say it’s hard to find a doctor of their own race, a new Gallup poll found. More choices will assure the Black populace has health care providers they can trust.”

The application deadline is May 1. For more information and to apply, visit inroads.org/internships-program.

“We know that there have been many remarkable academic studies done on [health disparities among minority communities] for many decades, but we’re about action,” Daniel said in an introductory video statement on BDHEA.org, in which he invites other health leaders to join the coalition. “Collaboration is the key in eliminating health disparities. And given the nature of this challenge, we know there is much work to be done.”