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Not Just Buzzwords

Analysis  |  By Lena J. Weiner  
   October 03, 2016

A chief diversity officer shares his top tips for making inclusion a vital, living value in every healthcare organization.

Culturally competent care and patient satisfaction are more important than ever, but how can healthcare leaders ensure staff actually live those values, rather than paying them lip service?

This is a challenge Joseph Hill, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia, faces daily.

"We don't want them to just be buzzwords," says Hill of diversity and inclusion.

In the 18 months Hill has held his job, he's created initiatives, speaker series, employee engagement surveys, and education focused on treating colleagues and patients with dignity and respect.

But what's most important, says Hill, is to truly live the values of diversity and inclusion in the hospital, and to make sure that everyone from the patients to hospital leadership feels valued, respected, and included.

Hill recently spoke with me his organization's efforts toward diversity and inclusion. The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.


HealthLeaders Media: Why is it important to have a diverse workforce?

Joseph Hill: Your workforce needs to mirror your patient population. If you're going to be providing culturally competent care and treating people with dignity and respect, you need to have folks from your community working within your health system.

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HealthLeaders: What is the business case for diversity and inclusion?

Hill: People often ask, are diversity and inclusion really needed? What's the strategic focus?

The focus should be around workforce, workplace, marketplace, and community. Diversity and inclusion need to be thought of holistically—it's not just an HR function where you're counting heads; you're making heads count.

Many organizations see diversity and inclusion as an HR function, but it's important to realize that diversity and inclusion are part of the operation of the system—meaning that this theme impacts everything you do as an organization. It impacts the workforce and the workplace, but it also impacts the market perspective and the community.

HealthLeaders: How do you get executives onboard for diversity education?

Hill: What I do is called an "executive briefing" on diversity and inclusion. I call it that because oftentimes, it's difficult to get executives to want to do training. But when you call it an executive briefing, it's easier to engage your execs and get them involved.

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HealthLeaders: What's the toughest issue you've had to tackle as a diversity officer?

Hill: We've seen different responses from our employees and members of our communities around the recent killings of young African American males. Unfortunately, one of our employees posted something on Facebook that was extremely negative and derogatory against African Americans.

Had we not handled the situation well, it could have blown up in our faces. But collectively, the diversity office, along with HR and the legal department, recognized that this was something we had to address.

We recognized that we would have to act swiftly, and that we would have to let that person go, because otherwise, it would have had a major impact on morale within our organization.


HealthLeaders: Can you give me an example of a time when having a diverse workforce was helpful?

Hill: The last organization I worked for was in a community with a large Hmong population. At one time, a Hmong patient died, and there was an issue where the family and friends of that patient wanted to gather in the room just after the patient had passed away.

Some of our nurses didn't understand that, but we had staff who were part of the Hmong community who could explain to them why the whole family was going to be in the room at one time. That was a cultural dynamic that some of our nurses weren't aware of.

That's why it's important to have a diverse workforce. If you're going to be providing culturally competent care, you need an understanding of the dynamics within various cultures.


Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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