Working toward excellence in health equity 

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The summer of 2020 changed the world, harshly spotlighting the impacts of racial injustice in America. The University of Rochester Medical Center committed to changing with it. We acknowledged racial inequities historically inherent in academic medicine, including our own institution, and in the delivery of care to people traditionally underserved by the health system.

Michael F. Rotondo M.D.

That fall, URMC launched a five-year Equity and Anti-Racism Action Plan to address these inequities. It calls on URMC to create an environment where everyone has the support they need to become their best and healthiest selves, regardless of their identity or the challenges they face. Externally we are striving to provide every patient medical care of equally high quality, regardless of their identity or the ZIP code where they live.

Our institution has put structures and resources in place to deliver on these ambitious goals. The URMC board created a new committee focused on health equity; the administration expanded our Office of Equity and Inclusion to facilitate change and ensure accountability, while teams are working to bring equity to our medical education and research missions. 

Kathy Parrinello

Achieving equity in the delivery of patient care requires a multifaceted approach. Today we’d like to provide an update on one key component of URMC’s strategy—making clinical care more easily accessible to people who have traditionally been underserved by the health system. 

Data analyzed by our Health Equity Provider Task Force shows that patients who identify as Black or Hispanic are treated in the Strong ED more frequently than expected, based on their percentages in the local population. Similarly, people from these groups—heavily concentrated in the city of Rochester—underutilize primary care services, Urgent Care clinics and outpatient mental health services. The data suggests that access to these services in more convenient city locations could address these inequities.

In 2021, URMC moved outpatient mental health services from our main campuses to two city locations—the Golisano Pediatric Behavioral Health and Wellness facility on South Avenue, and the UR Medicine Adult Outpatient Mental Health Services Center on Chestnut Street. Both offer a range of individual and group services, including bilingual therapy for Spanish-speaking adults on Chestnut Street. 

UR Medicine’s Outpatient Mental Health Services Center on Chestnut Street.

To make other clinical services more accessible, our provider task force—building on URMC’s longstanding collaborations with community health providers like Jordan Health Center and Trillium Health—has met with more than a dozen community organizations that serve health-related needs of families in the center city. We’ve discussed potential locations for new UR Medicine facilities, specific services the community needs, and new ways of providing services through collaboration.

These meetings and conversations have expanded our thinking and occasionally changed the direction our task force was heading. For example, one very promising city location for a new UR Medicine clinic was taken off the table when we learned that another health provider plans to expand services in a highly accessible location nearby. 

Community input also led us to add physical therapy and occupational therapy as essential services, to ensure there will be room for health and wellness programming, and to provide space for community organizations to conduct meetings and potentially offer client services. Our HR team is focused on recruiting local residents to help build and staff new facilities, reflecting input that new clinical services should support not just physical and mental health, but also the economic health of city neighborhoods.

There is growing consensus that the MetroCenter YMCA facility could be renovated cost-effectively to meet many of the clinical care and programming needs our task force has identified. We are exploring this option with YMCA leadership, in hopes of being able to make a public announcement in coming weeks. Whether we ultimately move forward at the YMCA or another location, we will remain in dialog with community partners about how a new clinical facility can best be adapted to meet the needs of city residents whom we collectively serve.

It is also important to make clear that any new facility in Rochester will be one milestone on URMC’s journey toward health equity, not an end point. Over time, you can expect to see UR Medicine services in more city locations, and delivered in new ways, like pharmacy kiosks and telemedicine portals. We will continue listening to our community and collaborating with partners toward the goal of making Rochester a shining example of equity in access to care and community health outcomes.

Michael F. Rotondo M.D. is CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Faculty Group and vice dean for clinical affairs at the School of Medicine and Dentistry. Kathleen Parrinello, RN, PhD, is executive vice president and chief operating officer of Strong Memorial Hospital.

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