Diversity Top Priority at HCA
by John Fries (March 2005 - Volume 1 - Issue 8)

South Florida is a true microcosm of the world. Ask anyone who lives here, and they’ll tell you about the rich and diverse mix of nationalities, races and faiths that is represented among their friends, neighbors and co-workers.

A plethora of opportunities abounds for residents and visitors alike to become familiar with, experience, and appreciate many cultures apart from their own. All is takes is an open mind and a genuine interest in people.

For businesses, though, such wide diversity can often present challenges, as they strive to understand – and serve – their employees’ and customers’ needs.

Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), one of the largest healthcare providers in South Florida and across the nation, has long been sensitive to the diversity that exists in its patient population. The corporation has also, for many years, made it a priority to ensure that cultural diversity exists in its employee population, from executive-level leaders to front line staff.

A tradition of respect for people from all walks of life is part of the HCA hospitals’ philosophy of care. However, like many progressive organizations, the corporation is continually looking to improve, and last year took another giant step forward in its efforts to make all people feel welcome.

Early in 2004, HCA introduced a formal, company-wide diversity aimed at going even further in fostering an inclusive culture, attracting a diverse workforce, developing a pool of diverse suppliers, supporting a multicultural community investment strategy, and making sure that care is delivered in a culturally sensitive manner.

To guide the initiative, HCA Chairman and CEO Jack Bovender created a 27-member task force comprised of HCA administrators, managers and staff members with a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds—much like those of the patients served by the hospitals. Since its first meeting last June, the task force has been working hard on a number of fronts, including researching best practices at other healthcare institutions and Fortune 500 companies, and developing a diversity mission statement.

Late last fall, HCA published its 2004 Diversity Deport, which provides details of the corporation’s strong commitment to maintaining diversity in its employee force, supported by numerous facts and statistics. For example, minority representation on HCA’s advisory boards grew by more than 42 percent between June 2002 and December 2003. In the hospitals, the number of minorities in leadership positions grew by a whopping 71 percent. And, female representation within the executive population rose to 39 percent, up nearly ten percent since 2002.

And that’s just the beginning of what HCA views as a long-term mission. "At this point, the task force is looking for both short-term and long-term goals," says Lourdes Garrido, vice president of public affairs for HCA’s East Florida Division. "It is our hope that, rather than an initiative or a program, this becomes a natural part of our corporate culture."

Aventura Hospital -- Adapting to Community Needs
Since joining Aventura Hospital as CEO 12 years ago, Davide Carbone has witnessed firsthand many significant changes in the ethnic makeup of the communities served by the hospital. "When I first came to Aventura," says Carbone, "the people in our service area were predominantly white and Jewish. Over the years, many other cultures have also established a presence the area as well. Today, our patients are Jewish, Russian, Romanian, Spanish, Middle Eastern, Indian, Filipino, German, Haitian, Creole, and many others. I believe we have the most diverse hospital in HCA’s East Florida division."

Carbone has always made it his priority to be inclusive. Early in his career at Aventura, he assembled a senior executive team comprised of men and women with a wide diversity of ethnic backgrounds. "I hire based on talent," he says, "and it worked out well for us that the most talented people I could find represented several different cultures."

His commitment to diversity was recognized when the ACHE publication Strategies for Leadership recognized Aventura as one of a handful of hospitals that promote diversity in healthcare management.

Three years ago, Carbone had a visit from Rupert Evans, former CEO of the Institute for Diversity in Healthcare Management. The two had met at a conference and stayed in touch.

"When he came to Aventura and met with the management team, he saw an Italian CEO, a Norwegian COO, a Jamaican CFO, and a head of patient care who was a black female Jamaican. He was impressed with the diversity here." Carbone notes that the hospital’s board of directors is equally diverse.

The hospital is very diligent about trying to understand and address the needs of its employees and patients. For example, members of some Jewish cultures are forbidden to operate electronic devices on the Sabbath, so the hospital has a Sabbath elevator with doors that automatically open and close.

Signage is multilingual. And, there are telephones on nursing units that staff members can use to connect with employees fluent in various languages, when interpretation is required. More than 40 languages are spoken at Aventura. To make everyone feel welcome, the hospital celebrates the diverse backgrounds represented among its patient and employee populations by observing holidays and other occasions specific to individual cultures—and encouraging everyone to take part.

Diversity Part of the Plan at Palms West Hospital
At Palms West Hospital in Western Palm Beach County, CEO Heather Rohan recalls attending an HCA multicultural symposium a year ago and receiving what she describes as a reality check.

"One of the speakers shared a projection with us that 30 percent of expected new growth in our service area would be multicultural – mainly, people from Hispanic in origin" she says. "Since our population is largely white and non-Hispanic, we realized immediately that we needed to ramp up our focus on diversity. The first thing we did was a SWOT analysis regarding our hospital’s cultural awareness."

Soon, the exploration and analysis led to the development of a multicultural plan that was communicated to the hospital’s stakeholders, including its boards, managers, staff, and others.

Four goals were outlined: (1) develop and implement a facility-wide, multicultural transformation; (2) reach out to multicultural community leaders; (3) modify the business plan and physician recruitment efforts to better reflect the community we serve, and (4) develop a culture of inclusiveness in the workforce.

Knowing that the ethnic makeup of Palms West Hospital’s marketplace would soon start to change dramatically, Rohan and her team quickly brought the plan to life.

Like Aventura, Palms West Hospital added Spanish information to its signage and installed a language phone line at its nurses’ stations. The hospital undertook efforts to recruit both employees and physicians with a variety of cultural backgrounds, while focus groups were held with current employees to assess their multicultural perceptions. The hospital also invited local multicultural leaders – businesspeople, educators, and others – to sit on a committee that would help Homestead understand the needs of their members.

A launch event was held for hospital leaders. "We asked each director at the hospital to bring in food that represented their ethnic backgrounds, then we encouraged everyone to sample the different dishes," says Rohan. Since then, she notes, employees have enthusiastically embraced the change, something she believes is crucial. "Once you have the information about what needs will exist, it should be woven into the hospital’s mission and values. This makes it real."

While this is a dynamic and evolving journey, Rohan says things are definitely on the right track. HCA’s Garrido is pleased with what’s been accomplished so far across the East Florida Division. "I’ve seen our market’s hospital leadership working together, fully engaged, at our multicultural marketing symposium. Now, the insights and lessons learned there have become the very languages of those leadership teams. All important work is a great collaboration, and I see that in HCA’s people."

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Copyright © 2005 by John Fries, Pittsburgh, PA.
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