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  • Writer's pictureTennessee Diversity Consortium

Building Trust in the Healthcare System with John Baldwin

John Baldwin, Chief Operating Officer of Hospitals and Clinics for Cancer Treatment Centers of America Atlanta, explains how healthcare organizations can build stronger relationships with communities of color.

When John Baldwin thinks about the inequities in the healthcare industry today, he believes it’s important to frame them with a historical context. As chief operating officer of hospitals and clinics for Cancer Treatment Centers of America Atlanta, Baldwin recognizes that distrust plays a major role in explaining healthcare inequity.

“I think what organizations have to do specifically to help address this is understand where that distrust comes from,” he shared. “Specifically with African Americans, understanding the Tuskegee experiments and what happened with people. That is deep-rooted distrust that over generations has not gone away.”

In this episode of Speak Up for Equity, Tennessee Diversity Consortium Executive Director Robert Lawrence Wilson talks with Baldwin about the importance of diversity in the healthcare space. Baldwin also shares some strategies leaders can use to build trust with communities of color and begin to address long-standing inequities.

The Power of a Diverse Workforce

One of the key problems that creates a barrier for certain communities to receive the care they need is a lack of cultural competence. This also goes hand-in-hand with the issue of unconscious bias in healthcare, and Baldwin believes organizations should do more to address those things.

“Each culture, each ethnicity, has its own way of relating, connecting and socializing. And I think those nuances influence healthcare. And what we have to be more aware of is how to be more receptive in not drawing stereotypes or inferences upon a person based on our personal frame of reference, but learning to be more open minded, to be curious, to explore,” he explained.

While unconscious bias and cultural competence training can help healthcare workers learn to connect better with diverse groups of patients, it’s also important to build a diverse team where equity and inclusion are a frequent topic of conversation.

“I’ve noticed a particular difference in organizations that I’ve worked in that have a diverse workforce... My experience in those organizations is that things feel different. The conversations are different. The focus on equity, diversity and inclusion is different,” Baldwin shared. “There’s true intention and training and action around cultural competence, unconscious bias, but there’s also fundamentally, I won’t say less of a need, but a foundational understanding of some of those differences.”

Why Trust Matters

Additionally, when a healthcare organization is more diverse, people of color are often more likely to trust the providers, Baldwin argued.

“That trust level is very important, because healthcare is one of the most sensitive, intimate services that can be provided. And so when you think about it, getting someone to trust you is the fundamental principle of healthcare.” he said. “When you have providers that reflect the communities they serve — not just African American and not just Latino, but all communities and all ethnicities — there is a difference in how people connect.”

In the Black community, this also requires providers to understand the historical roots of distrust, and to keep in mind that events like the Tuskegee Experiments and the Civil Rights Movement happened relatively recently.

As they look to build greater trust and connection with diverse communities, Baldwin encouraged healthcare providers to use data to help people make informed decisions for themselves. He also stressed the importance of finding champions within those communities, such as celebrities, church leaders, educators, who can help deliver important messages.

Supporting Communities of Color Through COVID-19

Those trust building strategies are especially important as healthcare providers are trying to promote the COVID-19 vaccine. Especially in communities where distrust already exists, it’s important for people who do get the vaccine to talk positively about their experiences, Baldwin explained.

On a larger scale, COVID-19 is also bringing to light the issues of healthcare inequity and encouraging people to come together.

“It’s not just a single individual ethnicity’s issue, it is a larger scale issue. And so I think as we move through the pandemic, I’m very hopeful,” Baldwin shared. “The world has experienced this pandemic together. So I do think that commonality of sacrifice, of challenges, of anguish, of hurt is shared equally amongst everyone, so there’s a different understanding now of what is required to collectively move the masses forward.”

To learn more about the ways you can get involved with the Tennessee Diversity Consortium, visit And be sure to subscribe to Speak Up for Equity wherever you listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode.


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