Research proves that biases contribute to disparities in health care—leading to worse outcomes in pregnancy, cancer, and mental health for Black and Latino patients, for example. Elena Mendez-Escobar, MBA ’15, is on the front lines of fighting such inequities as co–executive director of the Health Equity Accelerator at Boston Medical Center (BMC) Health System.
The goal of the accelerator, she says, is to achieve racial health equity at BMC and establish a model that other institutions can replicate. “We are focused on improving outcomes,” says Mendez-Escobar, who is also BMC’s executive director of strategy.
A native of Spain, Mendez-Escobar earned her PhD in physics from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and then took a job as a consultant at McKinsey. There she found she enjoyed working on health-care issues, and McKinsey offered to sponsor her MBA. She was drawn to MIT by its mission of improving the world but says she got even more than she expected out of the Institute. “When you are at MIT, you can really pursue any passion in a low-risk way, and it can go much farther than you initially may have thought,” she says.
Mendez-Escobar’s passion was justice, given that she had experienced an uneven playing field herself as a woman working in theoretical physics and as an immigrant to the United States. At MIT, she shared her concerns about bias, and others in the community urged her to take a leadership role. That led her to help organize a conference on unconscious bias that is today known as the Hack for Inclusion at Sloan.
After MIT, Mendez-Escobar continued at McKinsey until the BMC opportunity arose in 2020. “This role really puts all my passions together. It’s about public health but also about addressing unfairness,” she says.
To root out bias, Mendez-Escobar and her team are diving into the data at BMC. Already, their research has linked many Black patients’ poor pregnancy outcomes (such as hemorrhage and renal failure) to racial disparities in the management of preeclampsia. “We found that the main way bias influences care is by contributing to delays in diagnosis or initiation of treatment for certain groups,” she says.
Now BMC is instituting new guidelines, providing workers with bias training, and educating patients. It’s an uphill battle, but Mendez-Escobar is happy to take it on. “Maximizing social impact is something I always knew I wanted to do, but I didn’t know it was possible,” she says. “At MIT, so many people made it feel possible.”
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