Finding creative ways to address health disparities and working together

Oct 31, 2021 | Kanaaz Pereira, Connect Moderator | @kanaazpereira

Ajay Jayakumar is a manager of data and analytics at the Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery and a founding member of the Kern Center's Inclusion and Diversity team (KIND). Over the past two years, Jayakumar's work has evolved to where his focus is dedicated solely to diversity and inclusion projects at Mayo Clinic. In this Q&A he shares how analyzing data and quality metrics are helping shed light on health disparities and the work Mayo Clinic is doing to address these issues.

What drew you to this work?

From a young age, I've been intrigued by world problems. Hunger. Climate change. Poverty. And racism is a world problem — a wicked problem that we're going to need a diverse set of skills to solve. I didn't always see myself as having a role to play, but during a conversation with Dr. Renaldo Blocker, I found myself wondering, 'Do I just vent, or do I do something about it?' I decided to get involved. I believe that collectively, by working together, we can make a difference. I'm passionate about making a positive change in this world, especially for my daughter, Tanvika, who is 10.

How is this project helping to advance racial equity for patients or staff at Mayo Clinic?

One of the projects I'm working on is identifying and addressing health disparities. We're looking at three quality metrics: colorectal cancer screening rates, diabetes management and hospital readmissions. We're comparing data by race, language and gender and finding out where there are disparities. Then we'll find out where there are opportunities to improve and figure out how to close those gaps. This will make care more equitable for patients — and our staff are our patients, too.

I'm also working on the platform that collects staff's stories, which are being used to change how Mayo recruits staff. They're changing the infrastructure behind promotions. As we build up stories of allyship, we'll be developing just-in-time tools to help people understand how to be allies. We are developing analytical solutions to be able to measure the impact of the platform. We want to understand if the platform is having an impact on the recruitment and retention of diverse staff, and we believe that it will.

What in particular are you excited about?

I'm excited about working together to find common ground. I grew up in India and had a chance to spend three months in Australia as part of an exchange program. There were kids from around the world: Japan, Thailand, Europe, South Africa. We all looked different. We all had different cultural upbringings. But we had so much fun. We found commonalities. We all loved KFC and the Backstreet Boys. I love working collectively as a team — and finding our Backstreet Boys.

What have you seen happen this past year that inspires you or gives you hope?

I've seen that leaders support diversity and inclusion. Two years ago, I couldn't imagine having time to devote to this work. Now, my role is 100% working on diversity and inclusion projects. I've been given time to do the right thing, to bring the right people together. This is a full-time job, and leaders are seeing it. They're making the investment that's needed to make changes. I believe Mayo is ahead of the curve. We're forward-thinking and aspirational in how we are approaching diversity, equity, and inclusion. That gives me hope.

What have you learned personally through your involvement in these efforts?

I've learned that every day, I'm still learning and still unlearning. It's a continuous loop — for all of us. I've also learned that it's not easy to talk about racism. I have struggled to have these conversations with my own family and friends. But you get used to it. We need to have difficult conversations. It makes a difference and is the right thing to do.

In 2030, what will racial equity at Mayo Clinic look like?

This work is a marathon. But the work we are doing now is a starting point for exponential growth. I hope that in 2030 this will be part of our fabric. We will stand up when we see injustice. It will be part of our culture to be more inclusive and equitable. I see a beautiful world for Mayo Clinic in 2030.

Is that realistic? What gives you hope that we could get there?

If there's any organization that can do this, it's Mayo Clinic. We have 150 years of experience solving complex problems. We have the right set of people. I believe in myself, in my colleagues, and I believe that people at Mayo want to help.

First published on In the Loop - News and views from across Mayo Clinic


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