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Employee Duo Shares How Teams Are Improving Experiences for Black Patients at

Northwestern Medicine

During a long stay in a hospital or clinic, some basic essentials are necessary, like food and toiletries. But just as some people have dietary necessities, others have specific needs when it comes to skin or hair care.

Vincia Addams and Karena Brown, MSN, RN, CMSRN, are members of the Northwestern Medicine Champion Network, a workforce-led network of resource groups at Northwestern Medicine dedicated to elevating the voices of members and allies of underrepresented groups. Addams, practice administrator II in Multi-specialty Clinics, Bariatrics and General Surgery; and Brown, manager, Patient Care, worked with other members of the network’s African Descendants Chapter to identify inequities in care for Black patients and help initiate positive change across the healthy system.  

Meeting Needs for Hair Care

“We came together as the African Descendants Chapter and noticed that for Black patients or patients with textured hair, we didn’t have the products to accommodate them,” Addams explains. “This can affect their appearance and how they might feel about themselves during their stay, which can impact how they interact with their care team and how receptive they are to treatments.”

With the support of the chapter, Addams says she and Brown approached the Purchasing team to see what could be done. Although suppliers did not have the combs, conditioners and other products that Addams and Brown were looking for, the suppliers identified and incorporated those products into their portfolio after the team’s inquiry.

Now, Addams, Brown and their colleagues are in the final stages of selecting which products Northwestern Medicine will offer patients.

“A lot of patients might not have the means to buy or bring these products into the hospital,” Addams says. “This is a great opportunity for us to show that we see them and want to care for them as a whole person.”

Providing Equitable Skin Care

Patients in the hospital, particularly those with longer stays, are at risk for pressure injuries, which can occur on the skin if patients do not change positions often. Typically, Brown says, clinicians are taught that the first sign of a pressure injury is reddened skin that does not turn white when pressed or touched.

However, these areas can be harder to spot on Black and other dark skin tones, and the areas will not turn white when pressed. Because of this, patients with darker skin can be more susceptible to pressure injuries. This could lead to longer stays, higher care costs and even poorer outcomes.

To address the issue, Brown connected with Addams and other colleagues interested in an improvement project to improve health equity at Northwestern Medicine. Their application has been approved, and a team of nurses is in place to work on the project.

“We knew that there was, and still is, a lot of room for learning,” Brown explains. “We want to look at how we can get care teams informed and aware about issues like this.”

Diversity Matters

These efforts highlight the importance of having a workforce that reflects the diversity of patients. Northwestern Medicine continues efforts to hire diverse talent and supports staff in addressing inequities in patient care. Moving forward, Brown says that care teams should continue working to not only recognize both conscious and unconscious biases, but also to design specific ways to remedy the issues that arise from them. 

“Although they can be unintentional, the effects of things like this are very real,” Brown says. “We have to own that while it might be uncomfortable, we don’t know everything. But if we incorporate these topics into education settings and within the system, we can move closer toward our ultimate outcome of doing no harm to our patients.”