Necessary Changes to Promote Racial Equity

By Contributing Writer - January 21, 2021

Diversity and inclusion are founding values of Moffitt Cancer Center, and the institution has long been an ardent advocate of health equality. During these challenging and turbulent times, we must continue to speak out for and act on what is right and just.

“We value human life and embrace the qualities that make each of us unique as human beings. We condemn racism, discrimination, exploitation and oppression of any kind,” said founder H. Lee Moffitt.

Moffitt has done a great deal as an organization to promote inclusion and equity, and the organization’s commitment to equality and justice remains undeterred. Realizing more can and should be done, the cancer center’s executive leadership participated in a roundtable discussion to examine what has been done and, importantly, what can be done in the weeks, months and years ahead to make meaningful change in support of racial equality.

Q: Let’s start with your personal perspective of the challenges we are facing as we work together to achieve racial equality.

TIM ADAMS: I think we've all experienced racial inequality in our career, but I think with our singular focus on our mission, all one has to do is to look at disparities and outcomes and access to health care. There are whole communities out there that don't have access to Moffitt. And then if you were to just look at our outcomes compared to the community, if they did have access to Moffitt, more people would be alive today. Moffitt can have a real impact on things beyond just our own four walls by trying to help solve that problem of access.

DR. DOUG LETSON: One of our biggest hurdles is going to get everybody on the same page because many people don't realize that we have these inequalities… About two or three years ago Dr. Binitie and I felt there was an inequity in the number of Black faculty... So, we started searching through the numbers and found that Black faculty represented [only] 3 to 4% of our faculty.

DR. JOHN CLEVELAND: I agree with Doug. There are big inequities, and we need to take a multi-pronged approach to deal with racial inequality on several fronts.

MARIA MULLER: In my fundraising career, I have been conscious of the lack of representation of the community in fundraising teams…whichever institution I have worked for. We need to do a better job of communicating the [career] opportunities.

DAVID DE LA PARTE: When you see the data, the lack of equality is obvious. I think sometimes it's hard to look at the data…but the fact of the matter is we are aware of inequalities. We're an organization of action...and with data and awareness, we can develop measurable objectives and we will become more equal; we will become more inclusive. I think that's the starting point. Data, awareness, education and measurable outcomes will change the reality of inequality.

Q: Moffitt Cancer Center has made great strides in removing racial barriers and promoting diversity and inclusion; however, would you say more work needs to be done? And, specifically what would you like to see?

EDMONDO ROBINSON: I think about a couple of things based on my experiences [such as] what is the environment like for team members? Is this an environment that embraces diversity and inclusion, or is it an environment that sort of tolerates it, or is it an environment that doesn’t pay any attention to it at all? Or is it one that is nurturing where people from diverse backgrounds are enabled and encouraged to succeed?
Responsibility to create such a nurturing environment is that of the leaders. Do we have concrete steps in place to ensure we are moving forward? And what are the data? Let’s take a look. Let’s not be embarrassed by it; don’t shy away from it. Let’s look at our own data. There are some areas where we are pretty good…but let’s increase our diversity in some other areas. And then let’s put some concrete tactics in place – not just a list of goals.
And how do we hold people we work with accountable to do the same?

YVETTE TREMONTI: I think there are a lot of things Moffitt has done early on. That said, there's always improvement we can make as an organization. Some areas of opportunity are transparency… I think data is important. I remember a couple years ago, working with the Women in Oncology group we looked at both minorities and women in leadership, and we certainly don't have a representation in our leadership team that represents our workforce or our community and that's something we aspire to do. You have to have very clear tactics to achieve it. It doesn't just happen overnight. You definitely have to have a clear strategy and steps.

MARIA MULLER: People of color [are not always] getting the kind of career advice they need earlier on from schools or from home, and they’re not getting internship opportunities and work experience that are afforded other people. I think the pipeline issue is a fundamental one, and I think organizations like ours have to work with the community to start further back – whether that’s going into schools or going into communities and sharing information about the roles there are at Moffitt, in medical science; and a whole range of things, such as marketing, IT and fundraising.

DR. JOHN CLEVELAND: David and I have a shared goal of rolling out a center of excellence or Institute of Health Disparities Research. We have four centers of excellence [lung cancer, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer, immunization and infection research and evolutionary therapy]. Why not a big initiative on health disparities research? We have a strong cadre of investigators here who are Black who could be leaders of such a center or Institute.

JACK KOLOSKY: One of the things we need to do is have this candid discussion that will make all of us probably feel uncomfortable at some level as we address these issues, but I think having that uncomfortable discussion will get us to a better place... I think this is the right time and the right situation for us to have that candid discussion.
[The supplier diversity initiative] is pretty successful, but we didn’t get there overnight. There were two things that made it successful. One was creating opportunities, ensuring that diverse organizations were a part of it. And the second was that we had quantifiable and specific goals. I know people confuse goals with quotas, and it was never about that. I feel we need to be both creating the opportunity and being quantifiable and directional and ensuring that everyone understands what the goal is going forward.
I feel like those are the same opportunities [to promote diversity] we have for just about anything else, whether it’s patient recruitment, clinical trials, hiring – things that we as a leading cancer center should be able to implement if we all put our minds to it.

Q: Discuss how you and your team are committed to making the necessary changes to make a positive difference at the cancer center and in our community.

DR. DOUG LETSON: One of the things that bothers us the most is health care disparities. Not everybody’s given the same opportunity for cancer care, and that’s a problem, because we know that at Moffitt your best chance of beating cancer is here. And not everybody has a chance to get here. John and I are running a retreat [with the physicians, researchers and Moffitt Diversity] dealing with racial inequalities to address some of the diversity issues related to clinical trials and research, faculty recruitment and mentorship.

TIMOTHY ADAMS: What hasn’t changed is our mission. The more diverse group we have, the more likely we are to hit the mission. We had the foresight to add inclusion to our values because we saw the importance. We need to make this whole thing mission centered, which will cause it to be sustainable and cause us to think outside the box about how we impact things at scale.

DR. EDMONDO ROBINSON: We have the very difficult task…of delivering cancer care, despite social determinants of health. We know that there is income inequality, educational inequality and frank racism in our society. We mustn’t use that as an excuse; because our mission doesn’t say contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer when it’s convenient.

YVETTE TREMONTI: Getting involved in the organization and leading groups is one of the ways that I can help. We’re all involved, whether it’s in searches or hires, and I think we need to hold each other accountable.

DR. JOHN CLEVELAND: We have to get educated about the needs of the community and then educate our community about what we can do to improve their lives, improve their outcomes and reduce the risks of cancer. I think it takes us reaching out as leaders and leading by example, and I challenged all leaders in the cancer center to do so.

DAVID DE LA PARTE: There's probably nothing more debilitating than bias or prejudice other than ill health. [It is] devastating to the individual and their family. If we can improve access to the care we provide to communities that, for many reasons go back to bias and prejudice and socioeconomic inequality, then that's a huge contribution. If we can make discoveries around the mechanics of cancer in a particular minority population and have cures or preventions associated with those findings, then that's a huge contribution to leveling an unleveled playing field.

What Moffitt Leaders Are Planning

While considerable work remains to be done, Moffitt leaders are dedicated to making the necessary changes to make a positive difference at the cancer center and in our community. During the roundtable, the executives made it clear that they and their teams are committed to make the necessary changes to spur transformation.

Problems identified include lack of access, need for expanded outreach and education, need for enhanced recruitment and mentoring opportunities for Black faculty, and the need for clinical trials tailored to minority populations. Successfully addressing these issues will involve a long-term commitment. Plans include the following: improved access through digital innovation, outreach through education and partnerships, recruitment and mentorship, education and internship opportunities, along with more diversity research and clinical trials.

Roundtable Participants

Timothy Adams
Chair, Moffitt Institute Board of Directors

John L. Cleveland, PhD
Center Director and Executive Vice President

L. David de la Parte, Esq.
Executive Vice President, General Counsel

John A. Kolosky
Executive Vice President
Chief Operating Officer
President, Moffitt Hospital

G. Douglas Letson, MD
Executive Vice President
President, Moffitt Medical Group

Maria Muller
Executive Vice President
Chief Philanthropy Officer
President, Moffitt Foundation

Edmondo Robinson, MD, MBA, FACP
Senior Vice President
Chief Digital Innovation Officer

Yvette Tremonti, CPA, MBA
Executive Vice President
Chief Financial and Administrative Officer



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