Monica L. Baskin, P.D. He has been leading an extensive research program aimed at reducing health disparities for two decades UPMC Hillman Cancer Center As Associate Director of Community Outreach and Engagement and Professor of Medicine in the Department of Hematology/Oncology. She also serves as Associate Director of Health Equity and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Community Health Equity for the University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences.
Dr. Baskin has been recognized nationally for his work related to health equity. She has served on the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Rural Cancer Control External Advisory Board and Chair of the World Cancer Research Fund/US Cancer Institute’s Continuous Improvement Project on the Global Expert Committee on Cancer Incidence.
We spoke with Baskin about her new roles at Hillman and Pitt.
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges related to health equity and community access in the Pittsburgh region?
There is still a bit of racial residential segregation and medical mistrust here. I want to focus on ways to connect those relationships that may not have been formed or broken. One of my roles in leading this program is to call out what we do and don’t do to improve critical relationships.
As someone who specializes in understanding and promoting health equity, I’m here to help decide what we can do to move it in a better direction. One of the best ways to do this is to listen. I want to better understand the culture and where community members feel their needs are not being heard or addressed.
I believe in two-way communication so that we can get information from our residents. they Notice the injustice. We then explore how to best address their health needs through additional programs or changes in our approach to providing needed care.
What are some first steps for you?
Being new to Hillman, as well as the city and state, I want to visit our communities and meet people. Without first being trustworthy, I cannot build trust in the community, which can lead to successful community engagement.
It is important to us to learn from our residents about their understanding of health care inequities in their area. When we have programs, we need to ensure that they are working and what else we can do to ensure that the various health needs of our society are met.
As a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, we want to make sure that UPMC Hillman is communicating and promoting diversity at Hillman. That’s not just at the staff level, it’s everywhere, including leadership. That is a critical step in ensuring that diversity issues are always addressed. We want to make sure everyone has access to high-quality care and remove barriers to achieving that.
How do you identify inequities in health care in our community and work to implement improvements?
We know that there are disparities in access and equity in cancer incidence, mortality and morbidity. We have the data to identify where disparities exist in society. We can now reduce the disparities unless we can interpret the data and engage our residents and stakeholders to improve health outcomes.
One thing people get wrong when we talk about health equity is that it’s not always about race. It includes diversity by geographic location, gender diversity, and sexual minorities. There’s a whole population that we’re not talking about, and that’s the LGBTQIA+ community. With the overall goal that everyone should have access to the best possible cancer treatment, we must seek to identify where there are differences.
I would like to expand the Community Advisory Board so that we have full representation of the public and various areas to help us open lines of communication. I would like to hold an annual town hall where we can inform the community about what we have achieved in our work and exchange feedback.
People think differently. We all have different backgrounds, and we are coming from different places in all matters. That’s why it’s so important to have all those different perspectives in the room.
What do you want people to know about you?
I personally take cancer. I was in high school when I lost my father to colorectal cancer. He was just 51 years old. No one should die of colorectal cancer today. I want to prevent other young women and men from losing their parents at a young age. I know that for some people, accessing health care can be a matter of lack of awareness, culturally competent care, or ignorance of personal health symptoms. I think this is part of my life’s purpose. We have the opportunity to do more and we must not rest because it is a serious problem.