Atlantic Health System: Building Inclusivity During Crises

by Savoy Staff

By Armond Kinsey, VP, Chief Diversity Officer, Atlantic Health System

The more you listen, the more you learn. It’s a rule I followed when I became Atlantic Health System’s first Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer two years ago. I spent my earliest months here listening to our 17,000-plus team members, physicians, and our community members, learning what matters to them most and crafting a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion.

We gave immediate, intentional focus to health equity, diverse community partnerships and efforts to recruit and retain diverse team members. With significant support from our organization’s leaders, we began 2020 with very specific goals to address our new plan.

Then came two events that changed all of us forever. In March, the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard, especially in our region (northern New Jersey/New York City metro). In May, the killing of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests against racism and police brutality. Instead of upending our work on diversity and inclusion, those crises created top-of-mind challenges that we could now view through four diversity pillars identified in our strategic plan: patient care, team member experience, community and supplier diversity.

Serving Community Needs During a Pandemic

Early in the pandemic, we identified higher COVID-19 transmission rates in minority communities. So, we created tools to keep our communities informed, including public service announcements in Spanish (the second most used language in our six hospitals). We launched a multilingual landing page on our website. In addition to delivering patient care, our team worked hard to meet pandemic-related concerns, such as food insecurity, safety and unemployment.

Supporting Employees in a Time of Civil Unrest

Just as the first COVID-19 surge lessened, news of George Floyd’s murder rocked our social conscience and reinforced our need to further our efforts at building a culture of inclusion. We launched a series of listening sessions—hosted by our President and CEO, Brian Gragnolati, our SVP, Chief Human Resources Officer, Nikki Sumpter, our Resiliency Advocate, Dr. Peter Bolo, and me—across our system. It was important to us that our team members, a diverse mix of individuals, felt heard, valued and engaged in finding solutions. We supported White Coats 4 Black Lives, an 8 minute, 46 second moment of silence recognizing racism as a threat to the health of people of color.  After paying close attention to our team, one thing was consistently evident across levels, professions, race and/or ethnicity: our team wanted to get involved and be a part of repairing this fractured part of society.

Our team members sought ways to further their understanding of diversity and inclusion. So, we created, “The Journey to Inclusion” a series of 20 microlearning sessions with actionable steps they could take at home and at work.

Team members also wanted to foster intentional change. We created nine Business Resource Groups (BRG), each aligned with an executive sponsor, with four objectives: talent development, community, recruitment and retention. As part of the community efforts, each BRG identifies a social determinant of health (such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes) and develops programming such as hosting a screening event or heart walk to reduce its impact on communities.

We’re proud of how our team responded to these crises, and we’ll take the lessons learned to forge ahead in our diversity efforts. Atlantic Health System ranked 52nd (a 25-spot improvement) on the 2019 Fortune 100 Best Workplaces for Diversity list, and all of our eligible hospitals recently earned the LGBTQ Health Care Equity Leader designation on the Healthcare Equality Index from the Human Rights Campaign. To keep building this reputation for diversity and inclusion, I ask myself every day how can I ensure our team members remain engaged and how can I support our goal of every patient receiving the highest quality care delivered at the right time, at the right place and at the right cost.


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