Boosting equity efforts through workforce development


Over the past few years, Atlantic Health System has rolled out several initiatives aimed at giving employees the resources to foster diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at the workplace and in their communities. The Morristown, New Jersey-based system provides its more than 18,000 workers courses on equity and the chance to join committees intended to address social determinants of health. It also offers an interpreter qualification program.

“What we found when I first started here at Atlantic Health was that people wanted education, they wanted development,” said Armond Kinsey, who assumed his role as the system’s vice president and chief talent and diversity officer in 2019. “The challenge in healthcare is, how do you pull people away from patient care?” Atlantic Health has invested millions of dollars in strengthening employees’ skills, including through the creation of AHS University in 2020. The system designed classes and partnered with external vendors to form a library of on-demand courses and webinars on topics including bias and allyship.

About 65% of the offerings are fully virtual. Using an online portal, employees across the health system’s six hospitals and 400 care sites can find and complete short courses via their computer or mobile device.

“All of them are 10-to-15 minutes at max,” Kinsey said. “Some of them are videos, some of them are audio so you can do them on your way into work or on your drive home.”

Other classes are either taught in-person or through a hybrid model. Though enrollment is largely optional, leaders can require team members to take courses about different themes relevant to their work, he said.

Several thousand employees take courses on a monthly basis, Kinsey said.

The health system monitors data on lesson completion rates and popularity, he said.

“We are looking at having a team responsible for everything related to health equity, whether it’s for our patient population, or how our team members experience Atlantic Health.”
Armond Kinsey, vice president and chief talent and diversity officer at Atlantic Health System

Atlantic Health also hosts themed biannual panels aimed at leadership development, featuring discussions among keynote speakers, panelists and system leaders about the challenges they face when it comes to team management and patient care. About 900 people usually attend the conferences in person or online.

“We want to make sure those themes resonate with the leaders and are things that they can immediately take back and implement with their teams,” Kinsey said.

Gathering to give back

Atlantic Health has convened committees for executives and employees who want to improve the wellness of at-risk communities.

In 2021, the health system formed business resource groups, open to employees of all backgrounds, focusing on the needs of marginalized people. The African American business resource group, for instance, has organized several programs to ensure community members are accessing annual checkups and exercising properly in a bid to address diabetes rates, Kinsey said. The group held a series of dance workshops across five Atlantic Health medical centers aimed at helping participants manage weight, reduce insulin resistance and improve blood glucose management.

To encourage shared learning and cultural exchange, the nine business resource groups have executive-level sponsors who are not part of the focus demographic. For example, the sponsor of the LGBTQ+ group is not a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Last year, the roughly 1,400 business resource group members completed more than 3,200 hours of community service through their work systemwide.

Strengthening medical interpretation

In January, Atlantic Health launched its qualified medical interpreter program to support patient care. Staff members must pass a language test, complete a medical interpretation course and demonstrate their interpreting skills in a final assessment.

The system already partners with an external vendor to provide interpretation and translation services, which it plans to continue. Kinsey pointed to the advantages of having interpreters on staff, however.

“Patients feel much more comfortable and feel like the quality of services are better when there’s an interpreter in person versus having to use the phone or a remote video interpretation,” he said.

Atlantic Health covers the educational materials and assessment fees, amounting to about $300 per employee. About 80 team members have been qualified to interpret through the program, and more than 150 employees—ranging from clinicians to patient services representatives—are on a waitlist.

“While our first goal was to look at the clinical teams, we are starting to get requests to qualify people that are in some of our back office departments as well,” Kinsey said. “We’re mindful that there’s some [staff] in our accounts payable teams that have to call and follow up with people where English is not their primary language.”

The program will be expanding next year from qualifying Spanish-speaking interpreters to those who speak other languages, including Hindi and Russian.

Moving forward, Kinsey said Atlantic Health plans to continue involving employees in community engagement efforts while expanding its investment in the populations it serves.

It is internally recruiting for a director of health equity role to be filled in 2024.

“We are looking at having a team responsible for everything related to health equity, whether it’s for our patient population, or how our team members experience Atlantic Health,” Kinsey said.

The system also intends to increase the amount it spends on purchases from suppliers representing marginalized groups, with the eventual goal of doubling the more than $55 million it paid such merchants in 2022, he said. By partnering with the African American and Hispanic chambers of commerce in New Jersey, Atlantic Health is working to find more diverse sources of labor.

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