To provide better care for an increasingly diverse patient population, health care systems are investing in chief diversity officers—designated leaders focused on recruiting and retaining a workforce that reflects the organization's patient population, Maria Castellucci reports for Modern Healthcare.
Health care leadership demographics don't match those of patient populations
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2044, minorities will represent more than half of the U.S. population—but according to Castellucci, data show that the health care industry isn't keeping pace when it comes to representation. For instance, in 2015, when 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, according to a survey from the American Hospital Association's Institute for Diversity in Health Management.
Providers have voiced concerns about that discrepancy, Castellucci reports, as they believe that a more diverse workforce will enable them to better care for an increasingly diverse patient population. Tom Giella, chair of health care services at executive search firm Korn Ferry, said, "We live in a much more diverse country than we did 50-60 years ago. ... Organizations recognize they need to mimic the people they serve with their workforce."
Health systems hire chief diversity officers
To address this discrepancy and improve patient care, a growing number of health systems over the last decade have established a chief diversity officer role, according to Giella. That role, Castellucci reports, is focused on ensuring that the organization represents the changing population and retains diverse talent.
The chief diversity officer also should work to better understand the health system's culture and its patient population, Jennifer Bauer, a consultant at executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, said. "This is a role that accomplishes things through influence and relationships, not through authority, so it requires someone who is able to build strong relationships and communicate," Bauer said.
But the role is relatively new in the health care sector, Giella said, which means that some health systems are looking beyond the industry to find someone with the necessary background, such as candidates in education or government. According to Bauer, salary is another key consideration—health systems generally give chief diversity officers between $170,000 to $350,000 per year, a salary that reflects their role in the overall leadership team.
Chief diversity officers at work
Kaiser Permanente's chief diversity officer, Ronald Copeland leads an effort to boost racial and gender diversity among the system's executive leadership and staff to better reflect the system's patient population. As part of that effort, Kaiser leaders make sure the system considers a diverse applicant pool during the hiring process and makes sure that new employees know there are opportunities to advance.
Further, Kaiser also runs a system-wide Speak Up initiative that encourages employees to share their ideas for improving care and patient experience. Kaiser also offers educational courses for managers about managing a diverse workforce and patient population.
Today, more than 60 percent of Kaiser's employees are racial, ethnic, or cultural minorities, and about three-quarters are women. "We make it clear to our workforce that diversity is of high value to us." Copeland said. "We see value in our people and value the richness of their perspectives so they can become internal advisers and external ambassadors."
Meanwhile, Gloria Goins, chief diversity officer at Bon Secours Health System, said she focuses on ensuring that staff leverage their differences to improve patient care. For instance, the system uses employee resource groups to connect staff with similar interests or backgrounds to develop ideas for targeting the health care needs of specific populations. "An integral part of who we are at Bon Secours is to provide culturally competent care," Goins said. "The idea is to really meet people where they are, and the ability to bridge across all kinds of cultures including age and religion."
Separately, Joseph Hill, the first chief diversity officer at Jefferson Health, personally drives to local neighborhoods to get to know the surrounding community, and he had the health system establish focus groups with patients to better understand their expectations and view of the system. According to Castellucci, insights gained from those focus groups have helped Jefferson address health disparities, especially among homeless and low-income populations. "If we are going to be seen as the provider of choice, we need to have an understanding of the community," Hill said (Castellucci, Modern Healthcare, 9/23).
How to address health inequity in your community
With the shift in health care to focus on optimizing the health of individuals and communities, health care organizations are creating new strategies to address health care disparities in access and patient outcomes.
Advisory Board has created the Health Disparities Initiative, which provides actionable resources on a series of strategic imperatives and special topics to achieve equity of care. Interested in seeing research or resources that address your biggest health equity problems?
Download our resource, "Building Community Partnerships to Reduce Disparities," which includes studies featuring providers who have successfully partnered with community organizations to address health disparities and social determinants of health. You'll also find tools that can guide your organization’s community partnership strategy.