OR Excellence Awards – Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Committed to Creating a Welcoming Environment

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Emory Healthcare is establishing a workplace culture built on openness, respect and empathy.


Top leaders and frontline staff at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta are teaming up to find creative ways to provide the best experience for patients from underrepresented groups and partner with the local communities they serve. “We’re not checking boxes,” says Tyra Seagraves, MHA, CPXP, CDP, senior patient experience manager. “We’re thinking outside of them.”

That innovative approach earned Emory this year’s OR Excellence Award for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Last year, the health system hired Ildemaro González, MBA, as its first chief DEI officer. A DEI council was also formed to integrate what had been siloed efforts to promote a more inclusive and welcoming environment.

Mr. González held several town halls and listening sessions and put the feedback he received into action. He determined how the health system could make room at the table for everyone and be intentional with its choices to, for example, change the hiring process to eliminate implicit biases. What Emory is striving for manifests in care teams, leadership and the system’s composition.

“We’ve focused on what our priorities are in terms of DEI,” says Ms. Seagraves. “We have a diverse group of employees, so we constantly assess their priorities and put systemic initiatives in place to show they matter. Although most people have the best of intentions, the one important thing we’ve learned is that without intentional focus, active steps and everyone being aligned, staff members and patients will be unintentionally left behind.”

Sarah Kier, MBA, vice president of patient access, adds, “We haven’t cracked the nut yet, but what we have done is say out loud, ‘Here’s the work we need to do.’ I think that’s a really important step.”

Fostering a sense of belonging requires more than just putting plans in place.
— Tyra Seagraves, MHA, CPXP, CDP

Emory’s DEI task force takes a four-pronged approach to providing the highest quality of safe patient care, eliminating disparities across the care continuum and positioning the health system as the best place to work and receive treatment. Fifty leaders across all specialties and departments serve on various committees to make sure all parts of the health system have a voice in shaping its DEI efforts and implementing the most strategic and effective programs. 

“Fostering a sense of belonging requires more than just putting plans in place,” says Ms. Seagraves. “It must be ingrained into your everyday culture and values. It must be worked on every month, year after year.”

She led efforts to produce a popular and successful webinar during Pride Month. The webinar included insights from Emory employees about what it meant — and what it still means — to come out. “It educated staff through real stories from real people with whom they work every day,” says Ms. Kier. “I’ve been here for eight years and that’s the first time we’ve talked about anything like that in a public forum. Having that platform and seeing so many people reaching out to express their thanks afterward was a huge deal.”

Interesting discussions resulted and covered important topics, such as why using gender pronouns matters and how to be an advocate for members of communities for which you don’t identify. “These things help to ensure people can be seen and heard in the workplace,” says Ms. Kier.

The webinar was a groundbreaking event, and it created avenues for Emory to implement other DEI initiatives. “One of the difficult aspects of this work is that you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” says Ms. Seagraves. “We’re slowly ripping the Band-Aid off with these types of events.”

At the time of the webinar event, Ms. Seagraves helped to produce Emory’s first DEI newsletter, which contains bite-sized information about the health system’s efforts and initiatives. She’s also in the process of setting up online support groups, which employees can join to connect with colleagues with whom they identify. “Our system is being strategic about how we celebrate and value every heritage month or day. We have been more inclusive and intentional in our efforts to make sure we celebrate all cultures,” says Ms. Seagraves.

Emory also recognized Juneteenth with a system-wide celebration and collaborated with its schools of medicine, public health and nursing to put on a shared screening of the documentary “Power to Heal: Medicare and the Civil Rights Revolution,” followed by panel discussions about equity in access to care. “It was a powerful crossover event,” says Ms. Seagraves. 

All the opportunities employees have to directly impact DEI efforts translates into better patient care, according to Melanie Zaboth, director of operations of ambulatory surgery centers at Emory. “We’re all more involved, listening to one another and making sure we’re respectful,” she says.

Emory’s DEI efforts go beyond planned events. Ms. Kier oversees frontline team members who field inbound communications from patients and their loved ones. “It’s really important that they feel safe, seen and heard when they contact us and that our team mirrors the communities we serve in all the right ways,” she says. “We conduct a lot of intentional coaching and training to ensure employees are respectful, courteous and thoughtful in how they’re responding to all patients.”

Ms. Zaboth is grateful to work for an organization that’s focusing on compassionate inclusion. “I’m proud of this organization, about the efforts it’s made to promote DEI and the actions we’ve taken,” she says. “It comes down to reminding us all to be respectful in every way and at every level.” OSM

Celebrating Their Differences
Honorable Mention
EAT AND GREET A potluck is a fun way to promote cultural diversity in the workplace.  |  Sloan Kettering

The Memorial Sloan Kettering Josie Robertson Surgery Center sits in the heart of Manhattan, where its diverse workforce serves diverse patients who travel from across the country and around the globe to receive world-class surgical care. “We’re a melting pot of several diverse cultures,” says Grace Carlos, MSN, RN, CNOR, CNAMB, the center’s nurse leader.

A dedicated website on the health system’s intranet keeps the staff informed of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs and upcoming events. Sloan Kettering’s DEI council is comprised of advisors from different units within the facility. Ambassadors from the security department, environmental services, project managers, nursing staff and members of the surgical team collaborate to come up with team-building exercises that are focused on increasing awareness of DEI issues.

Soap Box chats is one of the ongoing programs. In one, Carol Brown, the health system’s chief health equity officer, talked about her life and career journey, her struggles and how she ended up in her current position. Staff members could attend the session in person or virtually. An engaging and provocative conversation ensued.

A multicultural potluck was another successful event. Staff members were invited to bring in dishes that celebrated their heritages for their colleagues to taste as they got to know each other on a more personal level.

“The events make us feel like more of a family,” says Ms. Carlos. “We’re a big institution, but the DEI program brings us closer because we learn about the things that connect us. We’re more aware and sensitive to each other’s differences, but we’re also more aware of the similarities that bond us together.”

It’s a level of understanding that makes the entire staff more culturally aware when caring for a diverse patient population. “What we learned during the Soap Box chats or the potluck event stays in the back of our minds, and we can apply the lessons to how we care for all patients — and that ultimately results in improved outcomes,” says Ms. Carlos. 

Dan Cook

 

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