Sepsis Alliance’s Equity Commitments: Six Months Later, There’s More Work to Be Done

July 30, 2021

It has been six months since Sepsis Alliance first announced its equity, diversity, and inclusion pledge. We’re looking back on six months of important growth—and looking forward to much more equity work in the future.  

In early 2021, Sepsis Alliance first announced its pledge for equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). We made a commitment to help close gaps in sepsis awareness, incidence, treatment access, and patient outcomes along racial and ethnic lines. We decided to take action after publishing our Sepsis and Health Equity Fact Sheet, which shows staggering disparities for patients from different communities. For example:  

  • Native American patients are 2.39 times more likely to be readmitted following a sepsis hospitalization than white patients;  
  • Hispanic individuals experience 1.1 times the rate of severe sepsis as compared to white individuals;  
  • Black individuals bear nearly twice the burden of sepsis deaths, relative to the size of the Black population, as compared to white individuals.  

Disparities exist everywhere in the American healthcare system, so these gaps in sepsis patient outcomes are, unfortunately, not surprising. As the nation’s first and leading sepsis education and advocacy organization, we knew we had an obligation to help close these gaps.   

The commitments we made in our pledge span three areas. The first is sepsis education, a central part of our work. Accurate education about sepsis signs, symptoms, and treatments is one of the most effective weapons we have against sepsis, and quality sepsis education is needed for both the public and for healthcare providers. Since publishing our pledge, Sepsis Alliance has begun translating more of our public-facing educational materials into Spanish, including our Bug PSA for children, which will enable sepsis education to reach more Spanish-speaking populations. We have increased the diversity of subject matter experts presenting during webinars and conferences to our healthcare provider community and hosted more provider webinars about sepsis and equity, including the June 2021 webinar Closing the Gap: Sepsis Care in Underserved Communities. During our inaugural Sepsis Tech & Innovation conference, we hosted a session on Driving Equity and Diversity in Health Tech Investing and Development. Our goal is to continue including equity discussions in provider education wherever possible. Doctors, nurses, and all healthcare providers fighting sepsis on the frontlines should be knowledgeable about sepsis disparities and be prepared to provide high-quality care for all patients.  

The second area of focus in our pledge is sepsis advocacy. We have recently been expanding our participation in  healthcare advocacy, as another important way to improve sepsis care and patient outcomes. Six months ago, we pledged to incorporate equity projects into our advocacy work, to draw political attention to disparities and help close gaps. Since then, we have partnered with initiatives such as the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project, which is helping to share scientifically accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines with all communities, with a special focus on underserved communities. We have supported bills like CA AB1038 that would establish a health equity grant program in California. Just last week, we invited our colleagues working on sepsis and drug-resistant infections to sign an industry-facing version of our equity pledge. Tackling patient disparities is an enormous challenge and we developed this pledge to call all our industry peers to action, from diagnostic and pharmaceutical companies to hospitals to patient advocates. We want to engage as many organizations in this fight as we can, knowing we all have a role to play.  

Finally, we pledged six months ago to make some changes within Sepsis Alliance, to become better educated about equity and better represent the diverse communities we serve. Since then, we have incorporated equity, diversity, and inclusion into Sepsis Alliance’s core mission.  We have established an EDI steering committee to oversee equity plans and programs, and also share ideas on what more we can do. We have scheduled the first implicit bias training for the Sepsis Alliance staff and Board of Directors, which will now be required annually. We have implemented a new hiring policy that emphasizes equal employment opportunity and obligates us to expand on our recruitment strategies. Additionally, we have established new relationship with two historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Tuskegee and Howard, to share internship opportunities directly with their students. 

After taking these vital first steps and establishing this important foundation, we are looking to what we can improve upon next. Some future goals include creating an industry equity, diversity, and inclusion reporting platform, to allow our colleagues to share their success stories and to enable us all to hold ourselves accountable. We want to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of individuals involved in the ongoing Faces of Sepsis community. We hope to collaborate with more partner health organizations serving communities of color, to distribute our sepsis education materials more widely. We will continue to incorporate equity into our educational offerings, support equity initiatives in healthcare advocacy and throughout the healthcare industry, and look for new ways to expand our efforts. We know our equity work is just beginning, and we are eager to keep moving forward, to save lives and limbs.