Opportunities persist for healthcare organizations and the executives who lead them to address diversity, equity and inclusion head-on.
Despite the efforts of many, a great deal of inequity still exists in healthcare delivery, due to variation in care quality, lack of access or because of discrimination based on personal characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, geographic location or socioeconomic status. These disparities have, unfortunately, been magnified during the pandemic. Many in the industry thought we were doing a lot—but we now know we need to be doing a heck of a lot more.
As the industry continues working toward advancing DEI efforts, a key first step is acknowledging, together, that challenges persist and then committing, together, to making this a core value for us personally as leaders, for our organizations and for the industry.
Building trust as a leader starts with acknowledging issues exist and then setting clear goals to accomplish change. Leaders should express their motivation and plans to commit to DEI, setting a foundation for their organizations. That commitment should reverberate throughout the organization, all the way up to the board level.
During my time as senior vice president and system CEO of Swedish Health Services in Seattle, as part of our diversity efforts I acknowledged the importance of and initiated steps toward developing board representation that reflected the diversity of the population we served and our employees. That first step translated to strategies that would improve the cultural competence of care the organization provided. I am proud that the stake we put in the ground years ago solidified the organization’s commitment to DEI, and it is inspiring to see its continued work and emphasis on this core value today.
The benefits of a strong devotion to DEI are many. Research, for instance, has demonstrated that if we espouse diversity in healthcare, it improves our ability as healthcare providers to offer services unique to the social, cultural and linguistic needs of our patients. At Generations Healthcare Network, one recent manifestation of its DEI commitment has been embarking on sensitivity training for all employees.
This includes having discussions about and encouraging respectful acknowledgment of differences, and discouraging all disparaging commentary and behaviors. Recognizing and celebrating the cultural differences and beliefs within our population and among our caregivers allows us to approach our work with clearer communication and understanding and to achieve stronger care and health outcomes for our residents.
Another step our industry should take to strengthen its DEI commitment is working together. The good news is there’s already a great deal of effort happening in the field. Through meaningful partnerships, leaders can share their successes, knowledge and data. The creation of a go-to repository would be tremendously beneficial. Such a DEI storehouse could include the best and latest practices, educational resources and tools to help advance DEI within our organizations.