Industry Voices—To improve care quality, embrace diversity in healthcare leadership roles

Empty desk chair in modern office
Has your organization made room at the leadership table for diversity? (Getty/Robert Daly)

How diverse is your hospital?

Last fall I was honored with an opportunity to speak before an audience at the National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives’ annual meeting. As I often find, I received much more professional enrichment by attending the conference than I gave back to the organization by being a speaker. 

In addition to meeting some of the most influential Latino healthcare executives in the country, I found that this was a forum that celebrates and enhances diversity in our profession. As evidence of that, the second day began with a diversity panel.

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The panel hit home for me because I, too, am a healthcare leader who comes from a minority background. My father was second generation Japanese (referred to as Nisei in our culture), who married a Scotch Irish woman. Diversity was a major part of my upbringing as I played sports with African American boys and my parents’ best friends were a Jewish family.

After the conference I wanted to learn more about diversity in healthcare. I discovered that the Institute for Diversity in health Management was created in 1994 after a national study determined that more than 20% of hospital employees came from minority groups but less than 1% of top management were minorities. 

After that first study, the Kaiser Family Foundation Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET) has done a national benchmarking study for diversity in healthcare management five times.

(HRET)

Here's a summary of some of the key results from the most recent survey (PDF), conducted in 2015 (HRET says 2017 data is forthcoming):

  • About 80% of hospitals educate all clinical staff on cultural competence training topics during orientation.
  • 79% offer continuing education opportunities on cultural competency.
  • 55% include clinical competency metrics in their strategic plans.
  • 32% of patients in hospitals are minorities now represent, compared to 37% of the U.S. population.
  • 14% of hospital and health system board members are minorities.
  • 11% of people in executive leadership positions are minorities.
  • 19% of first-level and mid-level management positions are held by minorities, an increase of 4% from the previous survey in 2013.

Why is all of this important? It’s important because diversity in leadership leads to improvements in quality of care for all ethnic groups. Language barriers, cultural norms and healthcare access can all dramatically affect healthcare outcomes. 

The Institute felt so strongly that diversity leads to better quality that in 2017 the name was changed to the Institute for Diversity and Health Equity.

Here are some things that you and your organization can do now to improve diversity in leadership positions and in quality of care.

If you do not already have a chief diversity officer in your C-suite, consider following the lead of organizations such as health insurer Humana. Maria Hughes, the chief diversity and inclusion officer there, says having someone in a role like hers can help drive the key diversity and inclusion initiatives that an organization wants to execute.

“Today, even more than ever, inclusion and diversity is very important—it’s a hot topic in society,” she told FierceHealthcare in a recent interview.

RELATED: Humana executive Maria Hughes brings diversity and inclusion to the C-suite table

It helps with recruiting diversity, too. "Having someone at a senior level that wakes up every single day thinking about inclusion and diversity … definitely sends the right message," she said.

You can also join the American Hospital Association’s 123forEquity Pledge campaign, an initiative that was launched in 2015 to accelerate progress and ensure equitable care for all persons in every community. So far, more than 1,100 organizations have signed pledge.

For more information I also recommend that you contact the Institute for Diversity and Health Equity and HRET. Both are affiliate organizations of the American Hospital Association.

Raymond T. Hino is regional director of operations for Surgery Partners LLC. He oversees the operations of three Medicare Certified Ambulatory Surgery Centers in the Northern California region. 

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