Develop an intentional and integrated diversity and inclusion program

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For over 130 years, Sentara Healthcare has served some of the most diverse communities in Virginia and North Carolina. We believe our differences are our strengths and as a result we are always proud of our equally diverse teams and the work we do within our communities.

In mid-2019, we decided to formalize our commitment by intentionally fostering a culture of inclusion, creating a Diversity and Inclusion Program led by our Senior Director of Diversity, Dana Beckton. We have also defined our strategy to have an impact on everyone who interacts with Sentara.

Here are some examples of our early work:

  • Forming essential partnerships to maximize community impact. This includes partnering with the local community and religious leaders to provide free services and educational opportunities to people in underserved communities.
  • Establish diversity councils in our 12 hospitals chaired by hospital presidents, as well as a system-wide diversity executive council chaired by Sentara President and CEO Howard P. Kern.
  • Implement internal policies and procedures to protect and support LGBTQ employees and patients, and support them with leadership training.
  • Develop a series of “Safe Space” virtual internal conversations that allow employees to learn, discuss and ask questions, without judgment, about sensitive issues that affect them at work and at home.

The goal was to get full membership. When leaders view diversity and inclusion as a facet of the organization’s overall strategy and goals rather than the responsibility of an individual or team, they create accountability and shape a culture that enables this organization to thrive.

It’s also important to understand our workforce, our workplace and our organizational culture to create a solid foundation on which to build. This understanding helped identify where we could have the most impact.

These and other efforts have produced immediate and tangible results.

In 2020, the 12 Sentara hospitals were awarded the title of “Leader in LGBTQ Health Equality” as part of the Human Rights Campaign’s Health Equality Index. Forbes named Sentara the best employer for women in 2020.

The pandemic has highlighted significant inequalities within our diverse communities and created an opportunity to further address these issues. Our partnerships with key community organizations have enabled us to administer over 15,000 free COVID-19 tests over six months and over 69,000 COVID-19 vaccines to patients and community members between January 20 and April 12. 2021.

These partnerships also provided 100,000 boxes of food and a pilot education program for underemployed people. We hope the pilot program will remove barriers and create pathways to healthcare and other skilled career opportunities for a more diverse workforce.

Our Safe Space conversations have become a trusted channel for employees to engage in difficult discussions. The first sessions focused on George Floyd and police violence. We also held sessions focused on myths and sources of mistrust of COVID-19 vaccines. Hundreds of employees attend these sessions, where they can listen to trusted voices discuss the topic, ask questions in a chat, and get honest answers in real time. We are currently preparing sessions on the continuation of social unrest and acts of violence.

However, more important than celebrating our early successes is our commitment to sustaining and developing them. Diversity and inclusion is not a goal. It is an ongoing effort for the best and for more, for everyone, whether they work for Sentara, receive care from Sentara, or live in the neighborhoods we serve. As we look to the future, it is clear that our successes will continue to stem from intentional and culturally ingrained strategies that amplify diverse voices within and outside our walls.

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