On April 13, 2023, Massachusetts General Hospital celebrated the establishment of the Robert K. Kraft Endowed Chair in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This position was funded as part of a transformative $50 million gift from Robert K. Kraft and The Kraft Family Foundation to address health care disparities caused by race, ethnicity, geography and economic status.
The chair — now held by inaugural incumbent Sharl Azar, MD, medical director of Mass General’s Comprehensive Sickle Cell Disease Treatment Center — will continue in perpetuity thanks to its endowment. Sickle cell disease (SCD) is an inherited, life-threatening blood disorder that predominantly impacts patients who are Black or African American. Despite its prevalence — more than 100,000 Americans are impacted by SCD — patient care and research of the disorder are dramatically underfunded, especially when compared to other genetic disorders that affect fewer people.
A Transformation in Sickle Cell Disease Care at Mass General
The launch of the Center in 2021 is shaping Mass General as a leader in SCD treatment and research, offering patients and their families an inclusive medical home and a strong interdisciplinary team of experts, passionate about the groundbreaking work taking place there.
The Kraft family established the new chair to tackle health disparities in clinical care both at the hospital and to be replicated beyond hospital walls. Given the importance of addressing health equity comprehensively, future incumbents will span all disciplines and are not limited to certain disease areas. Dr. Azar’s impactful career as a hematologist, clinical investigator and advocate for the underserved made him the perfect choice to become the first incumbent of this prestigious position.
Since joining Mass General, Dr. Azar has greatly advanced the hospital’s presence as a sought-after SCD treatment center. Years ago, Mass General treated approximately 20 patients per year, but today, that number has risen to approximately 200 patients. This dramatic increase in volume means the hospital is reaching more people in the community, many of whom were traditionally overlooked by the health care system.
A Family Commitment to Health Equity
Robert Kraft, along with his family, including his wife Dana and son and Chair of Mass General’s Board of Trustees Jonathan Kraft attended the recent celebration. During his remarks, Robert said, “This chair marks another milestone in [the Kraft family’s] partnership [with Mass General]. Addressing health care disparities caused by race, ethnicity, geography and economic status is no small task, which is why it was so important to create a permanent position to continue to advance innovative work and initiatives tackling these issues.”
Others who attended to celebrate the chair’s creation included former New England Patriots captain and safety, Devin McCourty, whose aunt passed away from complications with SCD. He and his twin brother, Jason McCourty, launched Tackle Sickle Cell, a campaign that aims to educate the public, increase blood donations and raise funds and awareness for the fight against SCD. Robert Kraft acknowledged this connection as one of the main reasons he felt this chair and Dr. Azar’s appointment were so important.
The Kraft family’s more than 40-year history of support for Mass General and community health within Greater Boston is extensive. Their leadership and investment in health equity have transformed the hospital to be a driver of critical, systemic change.