How Henry Ford Health System, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital improved healthcare disparities

Seventeen years ago the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit had two women in senior leadership positions. Today there are 16.

The work the not-for-profit health system has done to increase diversity in its leadership ranks is one of the reasons the American Hospital Association (AHA) presented the organization with its Equity of Care Award this weekend. The award also recognizes organizations that make strides in reducing healthcare disparities.

By increasing diversity in its leadership ranks, the healthcare organization is attracting the very best people who want to work there, CEOs Nancy Schlichting told Hospitals & Health Networks Daily.

Stephen Jones, CEO of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, which has campuses in New Brunswick and Somerville, New Jersey, and also received the Equity of Care award, told H&HN that his organization's reputation for diversity has led it to "become a destination," where people want to be a part of the organization.

Both also spoke about their efforts to reduce healthcare disparities in their communities, such as collecting data on their patient populations. Schlicting said Henry Ford realized it did not have good data, but is now able to collect information about race, ethnicity and language on 80 percent of its patients. In Detroit, patients are culturally diverse, with more than 60 languages spoken in the community. Since it is impossible to train every staff member in all those cultural competencies, she said, the healthcare system is training staff to ask patients questions to determine what their needs are and how to best serve them.

Jones said his organization is also working to bring minorities into the healthcare field. The hospital has partnered with the New Brunswick school board to run a high school on its hospital campus. Some of those graduates have gone on to earn nursing degrees and now work at the hospital, he said.

With the Affordable Care Act rapidly increasing the percentage of minority groups with insurance coverage, healthcare organizations face the challenge of serving more diverse patient populations. Diversity is changing how healthcare organizations do business, with many organizations realizing they must increase cultural competency of their staff and listen to patient needs. The AHA urges hospital leaders to pledge to actively address equity of care issues in the upcoming year.

To learn more:
- listen to the H&HN interview