Equity in health: weaving intentionality into the operation of the health system

From left, Donn Spight, MD, and Kat Phillips accept new responsibilities at OHSU inspired by the work of the Vaccine Equity Committee.  (Courtesy)

From left, Donn Spight, MD, and Kat Phillips accept new responsibilities at OHSU inspired by the work of the Vaccine Equity Committee. (Courtesy)

The Vaccine Equity Committee (VEC) has been an integral part of Oregon Health & Science University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, a new OHSU Health governance structure will lay the foundation for the work of the VEC, along with other equity-focused health efforts, to continue and become a conscious part of the institution’s health care delivery.

Don SpightMD, was named Vice President for Health Justice and Kat Phillips, MHA, has been appointed Director of Health Equity Operations. dr Spight began his role in November 2022 and Ms. Phillips has been in her role since fall 2021. These new roles are inspired by the work of the VEC and were created with the support of OHSU leaders and Health Mission leaders.

The need for trust among patients, community-based organizations, and community and OHSU leaders—a key strategy of the VEC—will continue to be critical to OHSU’s collective progress in creating a health equity system.

OHSU’s Health Equity Division draws heavily on community engagement: developing a shared vision for health equity with input from community groups; and listen to the community first before developing solutions. Throughout this work, OHSU will use the Oregon Health Authority’s definition of health, which complements OHSU’s efforts to create a diverse and inclusive environment as articulated in the OHSU Strategic Plan 2025 and Action Plan Against Racism.

On-site management team

Both Dr. Both Spight and Ms. Phillips have been steadfast leaders within the VEC and have helped provide momentum for the integration of health justice into all of OHSU’s missions.

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dr Spight, who is also a professor of surgery at the OHSU School of Medicine, will continue to serve veterans in his role as Joint Chiefs of Staff and laparoscopic surgeon at Portland VA Medical Center.

“I was deeply moved by the opportunity to co-lead VEC and it has become a transformative turning point in my professional identity,” said Dr. Spight. “My intention, along with leaders, is to embed health justice into the fabric of our collective identity, as a necessary component of excellent, effective healthcare.”

Ms. Phillips is a proven leader at the VEC and has helped design and operationalize complex clinical models in rural and community settings while working with competing priorities, limited resources and extremely limited timelines.

Prior to this role, Ms. Phillips was the Clinical Practice Manager for the OHSU Spine Center and is a former OHSU Learning and Organizational Development and Employee Engagement Program Manager. Ms. Phillips is also an Associate Professor in the Division of Management and has taught the Program Management in Healthcare course for OHSU’s Master of Science in Healthcare Administration since 2021.

A village needs health justice

Knowing that health equity is a huge undertaking and many activities are already underway across the institution, Drs. Spight and Ms. Phillips work closely with stakeholders from the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, OHSU Health, the OHSU School of Medicine, the Office of Primary Care and Population Health, the Office of Health Services and Health Share of Oregon, the Center for Evidence- Based Policy, the Office of Strategic Outreach, Community Relations and more to achieve OHSU’s health equity goals. These health justice leaders—supported by a cadre of peers dedicated to the work—will help OHSU earn and keep trust and ultimately make a difference.

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