SAN ANTONIO — Diversity remains a continuing challenge for healthcare, say members of the National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE), a national organization of African American executives and managers who are meeting this week in the Texas’ second largest city. Healthcare organizations whose leadership teams reflect the racial and ethnic makeup of the communities they serve can deliver care more effectively when a community’s racial and cultural factors are included in how decisions are made, NAHSE members say, and the data supports.

diversity in healthcareIn conversations I had with attendees, I was told that progress in improving the diversity of senior leadership teams has been made, but there is still much work to be done. Kevin Lofton, President and Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Health Initiatives, went so far as to say that, although much credit goes to the early African-American pioneers who ran what were previously all white hospitals, he doubted there would be true racial parity in healthcare leadership in his lifetime.

Mr. Lofton shared the stage with Lloyd Dean, President and Chief Executive of Dignity Health of San Francisco. These two large healthcare providers are in the final stages of negotiating a merger that would result in the largest healthcare provider organization in the country.

Mr. Dean said he has received telephone calls pushing back against the merger with subtle racial ‘we want our country back’ overtones, implying that two black executives should not be allowed to pull this off.

Disappointing. Just when I thought we had moved past some of these issues, I have learned from my NASHE colleagues that they are still very real important challenges and they are not going away any time soon.

One African-American executive went as far as to say that some search firm consultants, charged by their clients to produce a panel of diverse executives, act as if the request never occurred.

My takeaway which, to be honest should not have been that surprising to me, is that there is still much work to be done in our minds, our hearts and, most especially, with our actions.

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