Fernando Little, VP & Chief Diversity Officer
- WHAT IS YOUR MISSION FOR DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION?
At Atrium Health, Diversity and Inclusion are an integral part of our culture. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion supports fulfillment of the “FOR ALL” part of our mission: to improve health, elevate hope and advance healing – FOR ALL. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion also serves as a resource to our regional facilities.
FOR ALL: PATIENTS, TEAMMATES & COMMUNITY
Patients Come First: Effectively provide care that responds to the unique needs of every patient.
Teammates are the Key: Promote diversity, engage teammates and help them grow, together.
Every Community Matters: Develop lasting partnerships that support diverse and at-risk communities.
- WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IN THE HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY?
Diversity and inclusion are extremely important to the landscape of healthcare. There is a history of prevalent disparities in health outcomes and access to care for minority patients. Intentional inclusion is a key component of rebuilding trust across such communities.Even today science shows that unconscious bias plays a huge role in care equity – such as under-management of pain, to disparities in necessary treatment referrals. Our role in the Office of Diversity & Inclusion is to educate our care providers on the impact of unconscious bias and set up safeguards to mitigate such biases in our everyday practices.
Furthermore, diversity in the healthcare industry has been proven to positively impact patient experience, increase the likelihood of medication adherence and improve overall health outcomes. Accordingly, we are committed to building and supporting pipelines to increase diverse representation at all levels in the healthcare industry.
- 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.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation, naturally we dedicated our efforts to supporting Atrium Health’s organizational response – such as leveraging our Diversity Councils and System Resource Groups (SRGs) to spread awareness of COVID-19 and related safety messages throughout Charlotte’s communities of color.Then a public tragedy, that acted as a catalyst for the current racial justice movement, made its way into our collective consciousness: the murder of George Floyd on video. This is where our team in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion really leaned in to support our teammates and communities. The Office of Diversity & Inclusion collaborated with our diverse men’s and African American women’s SRGs to host a system-wide Courageous Conversations 3-part virtual event – allowing teammates to share their personal stories, perspectives, and emotions, in a safe space and to begin the healing process. Our office is not the only group that has hosted these conversations – they have happened and continue to happen across the enterprise – at the department level, division level, facility level and even within our regional partners.
In June, the Office of Diversity & Inclusion held a series of enterprise-wide leader-only education sessions about racial justice, how to support their teams, and how to facilitate difficult and courageous conversations – in a culturally competent, respectful way that meets teammates where they are in the emotion of all that has happened.
In the month of July, we also hosted a 4-part virtual month of education called our Journey to Justice Series, focusing on the history of systemic decision-making that has shaped some of our most marginalized communities of color.
Furthermore, the Office of Diversity & Inclusion worked to develop a Racial Justice Toolkit – a curated collection of resources for teammates and community members to further their journey toward cultural competence.
- 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).
Arguably one of the greatest learning curves our teams have faced following the onslaught of COVID-19 was learning to leverage virtual platforms to work in new ways and to host engaging and successful virtual education and events. Furthermore, from a health equity perspective we already knew that communities of color face disparities in access to care, quality of care and health outcomes – so of course the unequal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was no surprise.However, like the rest of the nation we had to learn the root causes specific to COVID-19 and how to best support the health of these communities amid this new normal. One of the primary gaps we identified was a disparity in COVID-19 testing among Latinx/Hispanic and African American communities. As a result, Atrium Health began to target these communities by driving a mobile screening and testing bus to underserved areas to meet people where they live and provide equitable care to those who are disproportionately affected. The mobile unit provides access to COVID-19 testing and assesses other social determinants – like the ability to isolate/quarantine safely, food insecurities, access to transportation, etc. – and then connects individuals to other resources as appropriate. Residents of the targeted areas do not need an appointment or a referral to be screened and tested – and, the ability to pay is not an inhibiting factor. This initiative successfully closed the gap for Latinx/Hispanic and African American community members.
As a diversity and inclusion leader, I offer the following advice and call to action: 1) lean into difficult conversations – burying our head in the sand is not the answer. 2) ALWAYS seek input from members of the impacted community when addressing gaps/disparities. 3) Find ways to channel your emotion to a productive purpose. Expect positive change because something good will come from all of this.