In the turbulent environment known as the U.S. healthcare system, one thing—unfortunately—has remained constant: The absence of true diversity among the leaders who make the key decisions that guide and influence our industry.
This was an issue when I started my career in 1978. And it remains an issue today, more than 38 years later, as we confront the realization that we will be living in a majority-minority country by 2043. Obviously, the healthcare industry has a long way to go to catch up with our country's rapid demographic changes.
Earlier this year, the American Hospital Association's Institute for Diversity in Health Management released a comprehensive report titled Diversity and Disparities: A Benchmarking Study of U.S. Hospitals in 2015.
The results of the survey were not exactly positive. In fact, the survey found that minority representation on healthcare boards across this nation stood at just 14%—precisely the same percentage reported in a similar survey two years earlier and a similar study conducted in 2011.
What's more, the percentage of minorities in executive leadership roles actually dropped over the past two years, to 11%—this despite the fact that about one-third of all patients in this nation's hospitals are members of minority groups. The only “good news” was a modest 2% increase in minorities in midlevel management.
The big question is this: Why have we experienced so little progress and success in minorities ascending to top executive and governance positions in healthcare? Why don't our C-suites and boardrooms better reflect the diversity that we see outside our windows, in the communities we serve?
In an era of fluctuating priorities and the constant challenge of change, we as leaders must respond to these questions, emphasizing the crucial importance of diversity as we move into a future made even more uncertain and challenging by the results of this month's election. In fact, the election demonstrated a widening gap in this nation over issues around race and ethnicity, which will make achieving our goals for diversity and equity in healthcare more difficult than ever—but even more critical.
The leadership of hospitals and health systems needs to represent their communities. Only then will we create the kinds of partnerships essential for improving patient care and promoting population health.
There is no magic formula for success. But there are some key areas we must highlight, emphasize and reinforce if we are ever going to make significant progress in dealing with diversity, disparities and equity in healthcare.
The AHA is helping to lead the way toward diversity and quality through both the Institute for Diversity and the Equity of Care Committee, which has done excellent work since its formation in 2008. The Equity of Care Committee's National Call to Action, co-sponsored by several of the nation's most-influential hospital and professional associations, is supported by more than 1,300 institutions and systems committed to increasing minority leadership.
Many other groups—public and private, large and small—are also deeply involved in the effort to enhance diversity in the industry. As top executives involved in the hiring process, we have to hold search firms accountable for providing a list of job candidates inclusive of top talent reflecting the demographics of our communities—and our nation. We must also expand traditional searches by tapping into the resources available from groups such as the Association of Latino Health Professionals and the National Association of Health Services Executives. In addition, we need to embrace private-sector initiatives, like the Leverage Network, which recently launched its healthcare board initiative.
I can tell you a focus on diversity and equity are priorities in Catholic Health Initiatives' new long-range strategic plan. It should be an integral, indispensable component of planning programs for every hospital and health system.
This is not just a moral issue—it is also a business imperative as well. We will never achieve healthcare's Triple Aim unless a disparate group of committed leaders fosters the kind of changes that bring about true equity in care through diverse voices, diverse opinions and diverse strategies.