The struggle to make high-quality healthcare affordable for every American continues. Health inequities persist in underserved communities where access to care is limited and social determinants impact health outcomes. Disparities exist in the quality of healthcare received by minority populations. According to the Health Professionals for Diversity Coalition, the average waiting time for African-Americans needing kidney transplants is almost twice as long as that of white patients. These healthcare disparities translate into real health outcomes. Hispanic and African American youth are substantially more likely to die from diabetes than whites.

The benefits of diversified leadership

Diversity in healthcare leadership can help boost community health by investing in wellness development in areas of need. Recently recognized as a TIME Health 50 Most Influential People in Healthcare, Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard J. Tyson, has dedicated his career to focusing on public health and preventative care, seeking to provide high-quality, affordable, accessible care to all its members. A diverse leadership team as exemplified by Kaiser, can help to champion population health initiatives for underserved communities.

In a recent interview with Marketplace host, Kai Ryssdal, Tyson shared Kaiser’s efforts in improving the health of those in the community. By targeting communities by zip code—going into the trusted environments such as barbershops and churches to talk about health and healthcare—Kaiser provides proactive care that is population based while focusing on the local determinants of health.

The forecast for a diversified future

Pursuing quality care and health equity for diverse populations needs to be more than a separate program—it needs to be an organizational value. In serving today’s diverse communities, healthcare leaders need to focus on:

#1) Effective community engagement

Leaders should engage in open dialogue and interactions that ensure community influence in developing polices that affect the whole community.

#2) Expanding the diversity of the organization’s governance body

This group should represent and be responsive to the diverse populations they serve. Representative and responsive leadership ensures that providing quality healthcare and pursuing equity become part of the organization’s environment, polices, and practices.

#3) Strengthening a diverse workforce

Leaders should promote a human resources program that recruits, orients and trains staff to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate care. Having a workforce that reflects the diverse cultures, ethnicities and diverse lifestyles of the communities it serves contributes to the development of strategies that are more inclusive for delivering healthcare throughout America.

#4) Delivering culturally and linguistically competent services

The organization should communicate with patients and families in their own languages and be responsive to patients individualized and cultural needs. We are transitioning to a values-based, patient-centric care system in which patients are demanding more personable services, open communication and high levels of rapport—they want to feel comfortable with their healthcare providers and care teams.

With the number of minority citizens on the rise, healthcare professionals will be tasked with caring for many patients whose backgrounds differ from their own. It is critical that providers maintain a firm understanding of how and why different systems of belief, cultural biases, ethnic origins, family structures and other culturally and socially determined factors influence the way patients experience illness, heed medical advice and respond to treatment plans. By promoting health equity as integral to the operational environment and strategic planning process of a healthcare organization, healthcare leaders can achieve genuine health reform with an emphasis on improved health status for all U.S. communities.

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