Penn State Health brand mark on a multi-colored background with words that read: Our diversity powers our drive to advance health equity.

Penn State Health takes a systemwide approach to addressing health equity that is in line with the health system’s mission to continually improve the health and well-being of the people of Pennsylvania, and beyond. The Health Equity Program’s objective is to reduce incidences of health disparities among specific population groups, most often reflected in length and quality of life, rates and severity of disease, presence of other adverse health conditions and access to medical treatment. 

On this page, you will find:

  • Information about why health equity is important
  • The impact health equity can have on patients and the community
  • Updates on Penn State Health’s commitment to provide the highest-quality care to all patients and to support the health of our communities

We recognize that health outcomes involve more than just good health care but also include access to employment and healthy food, a safe living environment and exposure to racism, to name a few. As a result, Penn State Health’s focus on health equity will include all the factors that can impact a person’s health.

What is Health Equity? 

Health equity exists when all people have fair and just access to health care, including the opportunity and resources to achieve their highest potential for health. The World Health Organization defines it as the “absence of unfair and avoidable or remediable differences in health among populations regardless of race/ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, geographic location or other societal constructs.” 

Why is Health Equity Important?

Everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, ability, income or education, should have equal opportunity to avoid preventable disease, injury and violence.

This figure illustrates the factors affecting an individual's health, with socioeconomic factors (40%), physical environment (10%), health behaviors (30%), access to healthcare (20%), and healthcare time (20%). It highlights the significant role of socioeconomic factors in health outcomes.
Good health outcomes involve more than just time spent in a health care setting.

Improving Health Outcomes Through Health Equity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health equity is achieved when people have the opportunity to reach their full health potential, and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances. 

A successful health equity program can have a tremendous impact on patient outcomes, preventive care, health care management and the ability to provide culturally responsive care to an increasingly diverse patient population. The specific benefits include:

  •  Decreased hospital readmissions and mortality rates
  • Increased treatment success and medication compliance
  • Improved performance
  • Greater workforce representation that reflects the needs of the community
  • Better patient access

About the Health Equity Program at Penn State Health

The goals of the Health Equity Program are to:

  • Address health disparities – the differences among specific population groups in achieving their full health potential. These disparities can be measured by differences in incidence, prevalence, mortality, burden of disease and other adverse health conditions.
  • Advance health equity – the opportunity for every person to achieve their highest level of health regardless of social or demographic factors, such as race, gender, income, geographic region or primary language spoken.

Health Equity Program pillars

The Health Equity Program focuses on the following areas, or pillars:

  • Community engagement. Develop partnerships and increase visibility in diverse communities to increase the understanding and support of the unique needs of all communities.
  • Health equity research. Strengthen Penn State Health’s infrastructure to optimize and guide scholarly research and quality improvement related to health equity and to increase diversity in clinical trials.
  • Data infrastructure. Use quantitative and qualitative patient data to develop, inform and measure health care improvement strategies.
  • Culturally appropriate patient care. Deliver compassionate, quality and safe health care in both inpatient and outpatient settings to provide consistent, equitable health outcomes and patient experience across all patient populations.
  • Governance, leadership and workforce diversification and workplace climate. Cultivate an increasingly diverse leadership team and workforce that is thriving in a respectful, inclusive work environment.
  • Organizational accountability. Effectively use organizational health equity influencers to sustain diversity, equity, inclusion and health equity progress, and advance a commitment to business diversity.

Facets for each pillar:

  • Information Technology and Required Data
  • Regulatory Requirements: Community, Outpatient, Inpatient
  • Communication: Workforce governance, External Community 
  • Education
  • Funding, Resources and Strategic Planning

A team of individuals throughout the health system is advancing the Health Equity Program pillars, in addition to factors that support these areas.

Penn State Health’s Progress in Addressing Health Equity 

The butterfly symbolizes hope and a transformational life cycle with four stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Each stage builds on the prior one and requires different methods of growth throughout the process. Penn State Health’s progress on its Health Equity program is embodied by this symbol.

An Animation of a butterfly transitioning through the stages of its lifecycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult. This is shown against a multicolored background.
The butterfly represents both transformation and hope, and its lifecycle comprises four distinct stages: Egg, Larva, Pupa, and Adult. Penn State Health's Health Equity program progress is embodied in this butterfly symbol.

Egg, Stage 1 (Identify): This stage in the transformation involves creating a plan to assess gaps, identify stakeholder participation, develop timelines, inventory resources and determine methods for data-gathering, interpretation and decision-making.

Larva, Stage 2 (Define and Plan): This stage focuses on developing strategic plans to address gaps identified in Stage 1, learn more about populations of interest, trends and issues that may affect implementation, including the wants, risks and needs of both the community and Penn State Health.

Pupa, Stage 3 (Develop and Implement): This stage ensures that program goals, populations of interest and outcome objectives are aligned with the strategic directions of Penn State Health. It also involves identifying specific activities for each strategy, including existing activities to start, stop or continue. Rollout of interventions should be implemented, with continuous communication and measurement. 

Adult, Stage 4 (Impact and Evaluate): This stage of transformation focuses on evaluating health equity efforts to determine if they effectively contribute to organizational goals and objectives, if the chosen activities are appropriate for advancing health equity and if resources are adequate to implement new programming and sustain current activities.

A stylized image of a butterfly larva perched atop a partially chewed leaf.Penn State Health’s Health Equity Program is currently in Stage 2 ─ steadily advancing toward our goal of fair and accessible health care for all patients.


November 2022: Penn State Health convened a team from throughout the health system to advance a systemwide health equity program. Six priority areas, called pillars, were identified. In addition, the health system began completion of the American Hospital Association’s Health Equity Roadmap.

February 2023: The health system’s boards were advised of the foundation for implementing the system’s health equity program, with key performance indicators to be reviewed on an annual basis. 

April 2023: The health system completed the American Hospital Association Health Equity Transformation Assessment for five of its six hospitals. In July, stroke was targeted as the focal point for efforts on health equity disparities. 

October 2023: Penn State Health created a new role, program director for health equity, to lead the health equity effort, with support from the vice president/chief diversity officer and the vice president for value-based care and population health.

November 2023 to February 2024: A health equity written plan was developed, based on requirements of The Joint Commission and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

April 2024: The health system focused on completion of the 2024 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion benchmark survey from the American Hospital Association and its Institute for Diversity and Health Equity. Penn State Health also developed a plan to address equity in care for both strokes and maternal health and assessed readiness for accreditation by the National Committee for Quality Assurance. 

Today: Penn State Health continues to prioritize equitable care for strokes, with a goal of expanding culturally appropriate language materials and resources. Maternal health has been identified not only as a global concern but as a priority for Penn State Health. In addition, a toolkit to implement best health equity practices is being developed. The system continues to address health equity throughout its operations. 

Penn State Health’s goal is to remain compliant with accrediting bodies while continuing to advance health equity for all patients.

Health Disparities Research


Contact Us

If you have questions about our Health Equity Program or would like more information, contact the Penn State Health Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at [email protected].