Health Equity, President's Update

A Collective Approach to Health

kristy davis CEO

Dear Friends and Partners,

We all want to live in a Georgia where everyone has the opportunity to participate, prosper, and achieve their full potential for health.  

Unfortunately, throughout history, structural barriers have been created that keep some people from the health and wellbeing we all want for our families and neighbors. And, thankfully, other efforts have overcome those barriers. For example, in July of 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare and Medicaid Act into law.  While most recognize this landmark legislation’s role in increasing access to healthcare, far fewer are aware of its role in ending the racial segregation of hospitals. Despite earlier passage of the Civil Rights Act, hospitals across the south were still largely segregated with many refusing to change. While few blatantly turned patients away due to the color of their skin, most southern hospitals forced Black patients to use separate entrances and waiting rooms or created administrative barriers such as denying admitting rights to Black physicians. However, the Medicare and Medicaid Act put a definitive end to this practice with Dr. Phillip Lee, Johnson’s Assistant Secretary of Health, stating plainly that if a facility did not see Black patients equally, they would not receive Medicare funding. Within a few months, facing almost certain bankruptcy, nearly 2,000 hospitals formally desegregated. 

Still today – despite numerous laws and regulations banning discrimination – a range of factors including race, ethnicity, sex, gender, income, ability, age, and zip code continue to shape Georgians’ opportunities for health and wellbeing. Disparities based on race and class suggest that we continue to have systems and structures that, whether intended or not, place a higher value on some lives than others.  

As an independent organization with a mission to advance health equity, Georgia Health Initiative is committed to co-creating a Georgia where all people can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential for health. We believe that can happen when diverse groups of people, genuinely committed to a different future, come together with humility to work toward change. This collective approach to health brings together interconnected organizations, services, and people to advance new ideas and invite new hope, inspiring and promoting action that changes the systems that don’t yet work for everyone. 

At the Initiative, our work will continue to focus on what is possible in Georgia. In some cases, the path forward will be obvious; in other cases, we will need to come together collectively, cohesively, and courageously to end the more complex, yet fundamental challenges that Georgians face.  As we take the next step on our 20+-year journey, we’re committed to working with our partners across the state to identify the structures and systems that don’t work for everyone, to understand the intended and unintended barriers to opportunity, and to do the hard work of making change.  


Kristy Klein Davis