Advocate Aurora Health

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Ericka Joy Daniels, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer

WHAT IS YOUR MISSION FOR DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION?

Our purpose at Advocate Aurora Health is to help people live well, and my role is of service to my team members and my community in fulfilling that vision. We want to make lasting changes that help people lead healthier, happier lives.

We’re up against years of systemic challenges – a history of racism and segregation that does not change overnight. But how many nights are we going to wait? Change can start now, and by seeking out and nurturing our differences, we can all do our part.

Getting to true equity is about closing gaps in our society. You need people with a diverse array of experiences who can help bring insight to an organization that can help close those gaps. The more perspectives and life experiences we have represented on our teams, the better we can understand the needs of all the people we serve.

WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IN THE HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY? 

When patients walk through our doors to get a checkup or because they’re feeling sick, their lives instantly are woven with the doctors, nurses and staff. That’s how we help create strong communities – a determined group of people who take care of each other and can be depended on when times get tough. We can create a thriving community where we can deliver the best, safest, most equitable health care possible. We strive to raise awareness about the capabilities of every person so that everyone becomes a fabric of what we do. If one of our patients has a unique outlook that is misunderstood by a homogenous team, that patient won’t get the best care possible. When we are better informed, we will deliver the right service and experience. And we’re better when we acknowledge that treating a person equally sometimes means treating them uniquely because we took the time to understand what they personally need to live well.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION INITIATIVES THAT HAVE ALLOWED YOUR ORGANIZATION TO HAVE IMPACT IN BOTH THE COMMUNITY AND IN THE WORKPLACE; THAT SUPPORTED DRIVING CHANGE AND/OR EQUITY.

As the largest health care provider in Illinois and Wisconsin, as well as one of the largest employers in both states, we recognize that we must lead by example on diversity, equity and inclusion. To do this, we must first look inward. Are we leading the way we should? Are we caring the way we should? How can we build an organization that draws on the experiences and backgrounds of the diverse communities we serve?

We’re well on our way. We are actively closing gaps in care to provide an individualized patient experience, including through programs like our Latino Health Task Force’s Diabetes Care initiative, Circle of Care Program for African Americans with hypertension and gender-affirming LGBTQ care. We’ve expanded interpreter services to more than 200 languages to address communication barriers and made our facilities easier to navigate for visitors with disabilities. We’ve identified new ways of attracting diverse talent and created opportunities for team members through professional development programs and leadership pipelines. We’ve strengthened supplier diversity partnerships and dramatically increased our spend with women and minority-owned businesses.

Advocate Aurora Health always has been committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, but we’re stepping up our commitment. This requires attention to three key audiences: our leadership, our team and our patients. They’re all connected as a community, but each has its own needs.

We engaged more than 1,200 of our team members in frank and courageous ‘REAL Talk’ conversations around race, ethnicity and language to not only hear different viewpoints but learn what more we can do to continue to grow from talk to action. We’re using that rich understanding to inform our strategy.

It starts with our leaders investing in this work as a strategic priority and re-examine how we promote equity and opportunity. It’s no secret that bias exists in health care. Being candid about these biases challenges leaders to step up and do what needs to be done to change course. We’re asking our leaders to recognize the unique differences of our team members and patients and to embrace them. It can be taking a closer look at biased policies that need to be updated. They can be dedicating time to listening to diverse team members. A top priority for our leaders is to adjust their way of thinking and use shared experience to provoke personal awareness and action.

As our leaders embrace their team members, we are creating expectations for everyone within our organization that health equity is a priority. We are denouncing discrimination and racism by identifying and dismantling structural barriers. But that doesn’t stop within our walls. We’re part of our communities, so our strength can help feed the strength of the people around us. We are harnessing our strength and collaborating with community partners in our shared commitment to change.

WHAT LESSONS HAVE YOU LEARNED ALONG THE WAY AS A DIVERSITY LEADER; AS WELL AS WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE (ESPECIALLY GIVEN THE CURRENT CLIMATE OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC).

Everyone has a unique experience and outlook. By acknowledging diversity in the everyday fabric of our organization, we grow and evolve to reflect the quickly changing landscape of our world. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to be aware and agile. If we set a good foundation now, we won’t be scrambling to fix things later.

At Advocate Aurora Health, our foundation is solid. But we need to keep building. Let’s not rest on our laurels. We are in an industry that is about people, and we are the healers of our communities.

Let’s embrace differences to create an industry and strong communities that help everyone live well.

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