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Advocating for Advancement: Wright L. Lassiter III on Reimagining a Healthy Michigan

The chair of the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference, Wright L. Lassiter III is President and Chief Executive Officer of Henry Ford Health System and the incoming Chair of the American Hospital Association. Well regarded as a national thought leader and advocate for advancement and equity inside and outside healthcare, Lassiter has pursued a lifelong commitment to meeting the unmet needs of the communities he serves through innovative and foundational solutions.

What does “reimagining a healthy Michigan” mean to you? 

We need to think more broadly about what it means to be “healthy.” Actual medical care accounts for only 10-20% percent of a person’s overall health. Social and economic conditions play a far more significant role. For communities to thrive, they need access to healthy food and clean water, safe and vibrant neighborhoods, gainful employment, affordable housing, transportation, and unfettered access to the right to vote. When any of these fails, the health of individuals and communities fail. When I reimagine a healthy Michigan, I envision a vibrant pipeline of opportunities and the eradication of inherent structural barriers to these core needs.

How do we achieve that goal? 

We all have to see ourselves in the solution. Everyone has a role in improving someone’s life, regardless of where we find ourselves. We also have to embrace this as a long-term commitment, moving beyond band-aid solutions and pilot programs toward authentic, foundational, scalable change. And, we can’t do it alone. We have to find equally committed partners who will work alongside us on the journey.

How do we need to invest differently in the health of our people and communities? 

We need to make foundational, enduring investments in our vulnerable communities, urban and rural. The notion that intentionally focusing on one group hurts the broader population is just plain false. When we ignore basic challenges faced by people who’ve historically been left behind, we all experience negative and lasting effects on economic growth, prosperity, and health. The reverse is equally true – when we lift up our underserved, we all have the potential to experience that success.

What’s the next step needed from corporate leaders to help Michigan achieve racial justice and equity? 

Hope and dialogue are not enough. We have to be courageous and willing to act on behalf of every life we serve – by openly acknowledging our collective failures and embracing the fight for justice. We, as leaders, cannot be silent anymore. We must commit to rejecting and eliminating all forms of bias, racism and violence, not just in our organizations, but across our communities.

What do you think is the overarching lesson Michigan’s leadership should take away from the pandemic? 

First and foremost, that we’re not out of this pandemic yet. We have come so far and learned so much since our first reported cases in Michigan in March 2020. I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to implore everyone to get vaccinated and actively encourage others to do so, especially as we’re continuing to see emerging variants and breakthrough cases.

Henry Ford is planning an “art activation” at the Grand Hotel during the Conference. Tell us about that. 

We have long known the healing power of culture and the uniquely restorative effects of art, music and food. That’s why we have been so intentional about the infusion of the arts at Henry Ford – and there has never been a more pivotal time to harness that. Throughout the pandemic, Michigan residents have experienced physical, sociological and psychological impacts of trauma, separation and isolation. We want to empower artists to empower us. As we come together to engage in authentic dialogue and commit to measurable action, we want to generate that restorative experience for everyone.