Empowerment Through Equity

HEAL-R helps empower patients with training and support

11/04/18  Portland, Ore.

Members of OHSU Family Medicine at Richmond stand as a groupThe Health Equity and Leadership at Richmond (HEAL-R) program received the Champion Program Award for contributions toward reducing health disparities and improving healthcare outcomes to diverse and under-served communities, at the 2018 OHSU Diversity and Inclusion Awards, June 12, 2018. (OHSU/Jordan Sleeth)

Originally published for OHSU Staff News by Tracey Lam

What’s in a name? By itself, it means someone who heals others. As an acronym, HEAL-R stands for Health Equity and Leadership at Richmond. Whichever way you look at it, it represents the mission of Family Medicine at Richmond.

HEAL-R started in 2015 at the Richmond Clinic in southeast Portland by a group of family medicine providers who noticed that many of their patients’ health issues were the result of food and housing insecurities. They partnered with the community organization Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good to help increase socioeconomic and political power to people in communities that are traditionally marginalized. In other words, they wanted to empower patients to be self-advocates.

Prescribing a purpose

The program offers free leadership training and brings other leaders, patients, staff and organizations together to build campaigns around issues affecting patients. “The program teaches them to not see themselves as patients, but as leaders in the communities,” said Fidelis Wachana, an administrative assistant who has worked at the Richmond Clinic for 15 years.

A recent victory highlights the importance of this model. A team of patient-leaders joined Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good in a campaign to increase funding for affordable housing in Portland. Because of their testimony and advocacy, the city council voted to increase funding by $67 million.

One patient wrote: “HEAL-R prescribed me a purpose. One year before I joined the team, I was living on the streets. This program gave me an opportunity to see myself as a leader and give back to the community so that no one else has to experience what I did.”

Helping each other

Today, the program continues to be a grassroots effort and has added a second core component that seeks to bring more diversity and inclusion among the Richmond Clinic’s providers and staff. While it’s in the beginning stages of planning, the team has already hosted listening sessions to identify priorities. One recommendation so far is for all of its 170 employees to take the unconscious bias training offered by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

For its work in reducing health disparities through community-organizing principles and patient-centered care, the Health Equity and Leadership at Richmond received the 2018 Diversity and Inclusion Award earlier this year in the category of Champion Program. The annual award ceremony is hosted by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the Diversity Advisory Council.

“HEAL-R gives me a peace of mind that I’m not alone,” said Wachana. “We are a group that can make a change.”