By Laura Thornton
This past August, Kennedy Krieger Institute opened the new Office for Health, Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity (O-HEID), a significant step in its journey to cultivate and encourage equity, inclusion and diversity among its community of employees, trainees, and patients and students, and their families.
“For many years, Kennedy Krieger has held and engaged in multiple independent equity, diversity and inclusion activities,” says Dr. Jacqueline Stone, Kennedy Krieger’s chief clinical officer.
“The establishment of this new office signifies Kennedy Krieger’s commitment and dedication to working toward achieving equitable health outcomes for all,” adds Maureen van Stone, director of the Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities (MCDD) at Kennedy Krieger, and of MCDD’s Project HEAL (Health, Education, Advocacy, and Law).
A Passionate Leader
Directing the O-HEID is Dr. Harolyn M. E. Belcher. A former trainee of the Institute, Dr. Belcher has been the director of the Institute’s Center for Diversity in Public Health Leadership Training for the past 15 years and associate director of Kennedy Krieger’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program for the past five years. From 2003 to 2015, she served as director of research at the Institute’s Center for Child and Family Traumatic Stress (CCFTS), and she was recently named a vice president and the inaugural chief diversity officer of Kennedy Krieger.
“As an institution founded on the premise of treatment, education, research and advocacy for children and youth with—or at risk for—developmental disabilities, Kennedy Krieger has been on a journey to address the needs of children, youth and families who are often marginalized,” Dr. Belcher says.
“I’ve always felt very deeply about helping families to do the best they can, no matter their circumstances,” she adds. “Through the O-HEID, we can move healthcare forward in a more equitable way, with the goal of everyone enjoying the same sense of health and well-being. We want to be doing all we can to improve the lives of all those who have—or are at risk of developing—developmental disabilities.”
“The O-HEID, with Dr. Belcher’s direction, will galvanize and lead our advancement in health, equity, inclusion and diversity,” adds Dr. Bradley L. Schlaggar, president and CEO of Kennedy Krieger. “And we—everyone at the Institute—will do this work together. Our work will touch all areas of our influence, both inside the Institute and in all the communities we serve.”
One of the O-HEID’s first tasks is to examine the Institute’s policies and services to ensure that it is leading in equitable and anti-racist practices. “We will work collaboratively across healthcare, education, advocacy and other sectors to determine what needs to be done, promote solutions, and leverage the skills and talents of Kennedy Krieger clinicians, researchers, trainees and staff members to benefit both Kennedy Krieger and the larger community,” Dr. Belcher says.
“There’s a lot of energy in this space at Kennedy Krieger,” she adds. “Our work with children who have—or are at risk of having—developmental disabilities requires us to be compassionate, patient, culturally competent and innovative. That makes us a unique institution with unique skills and abilities that we can use to move into a leadership role in this field.”
A Long History
A quarter of a century ago, the CCFTS—which provides mental health services for children and teens, and their families—formed a Cultural Awareness Committee to encourage cultural and linguistic competency among its staff members. Then about four years ago, an Institute-wide Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Workgroup began meeting to address disparities across the Kennedy Krieger community. Two years later, the Cultural Awareness Committee shifted its focus toward anti-racism and joined a national anti-racism initiative through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. And early last year, the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Workgroup became a formal steering committee, chaired by Dr. Stone.
The O-HEID builds on this work, promoting the health, well-being and cultural competency of all members of the Kennedy Krieger community through evidence- and equity-based approaches that support diversity and inclusion. Services include research, education, support, advocacy and clinical work. The Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee supports the O-HEID in an advisory role.
Through the O-HEID, we can move healthcare forward in a more equitable way, with the goal of everyone enjoying the same sense of health and well-being.”
– Dr. Harolyn M. E. Belcher
“All of the work that we’ll do in this space will influence and involve Kennedy Krieger’s overall culture, including its board of directors, faculty and staff members, trainees, patients, students, and families, as well as Baltimore, Maryland and the nation,” Dr. Stone says.