Eastern Maine Medical Center staff walk down a hallway in the hospital in this 2017 file photo. Credit: Ashley L. Conti | BDN

One of Maine’s largest health care systems said Wednesday it has a plan to address systemic racism and other forms of discrimination as it tries to achieve racial justice within health care.

The announcement from Northern Light Health, which is based in Brewer and has 10 hospitals stretching from Portland in the south to Presque Isle in the north, follows weeks of protests across the nation and in Maine that have drawn attention to racism in many areas of life in the United States, including in health care.

The health care system, which employs more than 12,000 people at its hospitals, medical practices and its long-term and home health care operations, has pledged to examine past failings and implicit bias within its organization.

“It is my goal, by this time next year, that we will have identified all explicit and implicit bias within Northern Light Health, and embraced and promoted those ideals that create a system where social and medical justice drives our contributions to society and defines how we make healthcare work for the people we serve,” Tim Dentry, president and CEO of Northern Light Health, said in a statement.

Some of the short-term steps will include virtual meetings between Dentry and people of color employed by Northern Light Health, meetings between human resources leaders and hospital presidents to address local problems and the production of a series of videos featuring people in Northern Light Health discussing how to advance justice in the health care system.

The healthcare organization has also formed an advisory panel to help address biases.

“Northern Light Health can be, and I hope will be, a place where racial bias and indifference do not exist,” said Dr. James Fullwood, a podiatrist at Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield who serves on the panel. “I hope it to be an institution where social and medical justice reigns.”

System administrators across Northern Light Health will also review policies, trainings, hiring practices and disciplinary practices with an eye toward racial equity. They’ll also introduce new mandatory anti-discrimination training for staff and survey employees to learn more and provide them with an opportunity to share any relevant experiences.

“This will not be an easy journey, but we will set goals, celebrate our achievements, and overcome our setbacks, as we move forward for years to come,” Dentry said. “We will keep striving towards progress, until the reason for the journey no longer exists.”

People of color in the U.S. have less access to health care, generally receive lower-quality care than white patients and have poorer health outcomes. Research has shown that health care providers appear to have implicit biases of positive attitudes toward white patients and negative attitudes toward patients of color.