The Joint Commission to add health equity standards to accreditations

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The Joint Commission is the accrediting body for more than 22,000 provider organizations and programs across the country.

“It’s about healthcare leaders. They have not been held accountable for what turns out to be very costly disengagement with these communities,” Ana McKee, executive vice president and chief medical office of The Joint Commission, said Thursday during Modern Healthcare’s Social Determinants of Health Symposium. “The costs are huge to society, but also to the organizations that participate in risk contracting and bundle payments.”

The organization will offer educational programs and other resources to help health systems align with the new standards, she said.

The Joint Commission enhanced its focus on racial health equity amid the COVID-19 pandemic and after the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. In a statement at the time, the group committed to addressing systemic racism within the healthcare industry that has contributed to people of color having significantly worse health outcomes than their white counterparts.

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In July 2021, the group released an advisory for healthcare leaders to make equity a strategic priority. It recommended organizations launch efforts that address social issues, create a community outreach plan and provide job opportunities that provide economic advancement for local populations.

In June, the commission formally launched a year-long mentorship and networking program in partnership with the American Medical Association and Brigham & Women’s Hospital. In its first year, the program will support equity efforts across eight health systems, including Ochsner Health, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The American Hospital Association support the new standards. Leon Caldwell, senior director of health equity strategies and innovation, said it builds on work the association is doing with health systems to improve clinical outcomes.

“The Joint Commission’s standards appear aligned with components of the quality measures recently adopted by CMS for hospital inpatient care as well as with elements of our equity roadmap, all of which emphasize many of the same foundational steps to advancing equity,” Caldwell said in an email. “These steps include engaging hospital governance and leadership on health equity, collecting and analyzing data, and taking action to eliminate structural inequities.”

The commission joins several other regulatory and accrediting bodies in creating new standards around health equity.

The National Committee for Quality Assurance, The National Minority Quality Forum and The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have started to merge equity metrics into accountability programs for health insurers.

The latest standards represent a continued push by regulators to create financial and regulatory incentives that move the ball on eliminating health disparities.

“I believe the time for change has come,” McKee said. “We as a nation are collaborating on improvement. This is our time to really institutionalize this work.”

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