Boston Children’s Hospital CEO Kevin B. Churchwell discussed equity, diversity, and inclusion in pediatrics at a virtual Q&A hosted by the Harvard School of Public Health Friday.
Churchwell, also a fellow at Harvard Medical School, spoke with moderator Asaf Bitton, executive director of Ariadne Labs, a center for health system innovation based at Harvard and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
During the event, titled “Kids and Health Equity,” Churchwell described his role creating the Institute for Pediatric Health Equity and Inclusion, housed at the Boston Children’s Hospital. The initiative, launched in October 2021, advances “pediatric health equity locally, nationally, and around the world” through public policy, research, and its endeavors to promote inclusion and diversity among healthcare providers.
“If we intentionally work on equity, diversity, and inclusivity, then the rest of pediatrics will also recognize that and be part of that,” Churchwell said.
Bitton focused Churchwell’s attention on a local health inequity, noting that the life expectancy differential between a child born in Back Bay and a child born in Roxbury is almost 30 years.
Churchwell acknowledged that child health is a “broad issue,” encompassing everything from treating chronic diseases to closing life expectancy gaps like these.
“We can't solve the problem as a hospital, but we certainly can be a convener,” Churchwell said. “We certainly can be an institution that brings together all the interested parties.”
Towards the end of the Q&A, Bitton re-oriented the discussion towards the effect Covid-19 has had on pediatric care. Churchwell said that the pandemic has significantly exacerbated behavioral and mental health challenges for children.
“We were seeing a rise in the number of our children with these issues, presenting to our emergency departments and presenting to our primary care practices [before the pandemic],” Churchwell said. “But with Covid it has become overwhelming. It is not idiosyncratic to the state of Massachusetts. It's nationwide.”
Churchwell further noted that Boston Children’s Hospital has begun to address these challenges by working with Franciscan Children’s Hospital to create a local campus focused on behavioral and mental health.
He went on to express general excitement for the future of the field.
“We're at the cusp because of the work that's happened before us in terms of the human genome project, the work that's happening in gene therapy and stem cell therapy, [and the] creation of new devices for care of children that are going to really change how we practice over the next 10 years,” Churchwell said. “It's going to be rapid. It's going to be exciting. It's going to be phenomenal.”
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