By David Conejo, CEO, Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services; President of the New Mexico Rural Hospital Network and a Board Member of the New Mexico Hospital Association

Better patient outcomes have long been the mantra of hospital executives, providers and healthcare technology vendors as they continue to integrate diverse data and electronic healthcare record (EHR)systems. However, a new type of integration driven by diversity is now rivaling the demands for EHR interoperability with outcomes that are similar—better care for patients, but through human integration rather than systems.

This new integration, an infusion of multi-cultural and ethnically diverse employees, is designed to match an increasingly global patient population that finds comfort and trust in being cared for by those with customs, religious beliefs, and languages like their own.Not much different than the integration of IT systems.

The U.S. Census Bureau predicts we will become a majority-minority country by 2045. The globalization of businesses and individual communities is driving the need for organizations to operate inclusively within a diverse marketplace. As CEOs in many industries have witnessed, diversity improves outcomes because diverse and inclusive teams stimulate novel thinking. Diverse companies are 33 percent more likely to outperform peers on profitability, according to McKinsey & Co.

Smart, successful organizations are investing in chief diversity officers as diversity leadership is a growing trend and increasingly strategic. It is also becoming a prerequisite for attracting top employee talent.Research from Glassdoor indicates that 67 percent of job seekers noted that a diverse workforce is an important factor to them when considering companies and job offers.

Healthcare Needs Health in Diversity

Despite these signs of the importance of diversification, the healthcare industry is still behind many other industries. A survey from the American Hospital Association(AHA) indicated that while minorities made up about 30 to 35 percent of hospital patients, they comprised only 14 percent of hospital boards and 11 percent of executive leadership roles.

In addition, the present approach related to immigration reform coming from Washington is causing a detrimental effect on diversity, thwarting efforts towards workplace inclusion.To counter the current climate, The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a Rules Package creating a new Office of Diversity and Inclusion and requiring the appointment of a Chief Diversity Officer and the development of a diversity plan. Additionally, Chairwoman Maxine Waters has proposed creating a House subcommittee on diversity and inclusion that would force publicly traded companies to quantify their board members by race and gender.

Other proposals include one from New York Congressman Gregory Meeks who wants publicly traded companies to disclose the demographic data of boards of directors. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York is also considering granting the Securities and Exchange Commission new regulatory authority over gender diversity.

The “Good Doctor” Shows Diversity Is Multi-Dimensional

But diversity is not only racial. It’s multi-dimensional, encompassing not just race and ethnicity, but gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion and those with disabilities as depicted on the popular TV show the Good Doctor. Diversity goes even further when you consider factors such as education and professional background, economic situation and political associations – diversity really includes all the things that make us unique individuals. Yet women, racial and ethnic minorities and the LGBTQI community continue to be systematically excluded or undervalued in healthcare and other businesses. The bottom line is that when we aren’t diverse and inclusive, we all lose.

Many rural health facilities struggle to retain and attract needed healthcare talent and, as in any profession, many workers prefer the comforts of urban living. As a result, hospitals in rural locations cannot afford to stifle their ability to recruit and retain employees, exacerbating existing cost pressures. This bias impacts healthcare costs and many medical facilities are forced to hire hourly contract staff at much greater expense and lower quality.According to Bloomberg, bankruptcies in the health care sector more than tripled in 2017, and at least 18 hospitals and hospital systems filed for bankruptcy protection.

Provider diversity impacts patient perception of trust and quality, potentially leading to less positive experiences and quality of care issues. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and its member institutions are dedicated to promoting an inclusive and culturally competent health and biomedical workforce. The AAMC supports diversity in health care, access to providers and health facilities, innovative breakthroughs in medical research and equitable health for all patients regardless of their backgrounds.

Research demonstrates that diversity in the health professions leads to improvements in access to care for the under served, enhanced learning environments that increase creativity and innovation for all students and positive patient experiences and health outcomes. Diverse medical school classes do more than increase the diversity of the physician workforce; they also enhance the ability of the entire workforce to provide culturally and linguistically competent care for all people.

Creating Winning Healthcare Teams

Healthcare workers on all levels want to serve on ‘winning’ teams and achieve positive results. They want to beare part of a community that supports and nurtures their talents and provides high quality care to patients.Understanding a team member individual differences can be critical to delivering care that best meets all patient needs.

However, many hospital employees have had experiences where they haven’t felt like and integral and valued part of the team because their diversity or cultural backgrounds and beliefs were considered out of the norm. But it is exactly these differences that make healthcare teams stronger, more culturally competent and attuned to the needs of diverse patients and more effective when making critical decisions, that can often mean the difference between life and death in healthcare situations. It is critical to develop cohesive team culture and community, embracing similarities and differences which lead to high quality performance.

RMCHCS reaches out to its community of Navajo, Hopi and Zuni Indian patients with Navajo language signage. More broadly, the hospital embraces diversity through its hiring practices, reaching out to Anglos, Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, Europeans and other ethnic groups. In the nearly two years in which the hospital has been implementing diversity in its hiring, it has seen reciprocity with more diverse patients. In 2017, recognizing the broader demand to increase leadership diversity and its impact on achieving health equity, the Institute for Diversity changed its name to the Institute for Diversity and Health Equity.

At Cleveland Clinic’s Florida facility, having a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-generational clinical and administrative team has boosted the hospital’s efforts to attract an increasingly diverse patient population experiencing world-class care.South Florida seems to be at the epicenter of trends that utilize the hospital’s diversity program operations to spur growth and innovation for under served populations. Examples include strategically placing a facility near a European café in Fort Lauderdale where French, Russian, Spanish, Tamil, Arabic and English-speaking customers frequent.

The healthcare industry is experiencing transformative change. To remain relevant, we must evolve and elevate our expertise, educational programming and analytical insights as we continue to guide members in advancing diversity, inclusion and health equity. Under value-based care, diversity and inclusion are no longer just the ‘right thing to do’, these initiatives are inextricably linked to improvements in quality and costs. Hospitals that do not recognize this intersection will falter in both clinical and financial outcomes.

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