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December 7, 2015

Health system CEO: The business case for investing in diversity

Daily Briefing

In this regular series, Graham McLaughlin, the director of the Advisory Board's Community Impact program, sits down with partners doing exceptional work within their organization and in the community.

McLaughlin spoke with Jack Lynch, president and CEO of Main Line Health, about why he views diversity & inclusion as a business differentiator and makes this work a priority.

Question: Jack, I'm going to start with the $64,000 question, or in reality much higher stakes. Why focus here? Everyone would agree it's the right thing to do, but there are a lot of positive things you can do for a hospital. Why this rather than alternative initiatives?

Jack Lynch: If you don't believe a focus on equity of care and respect and inclusion in the workplace is morally the right thing to do, there is no debate this is a good business decision. Quality of care and patient safety guidelines don't say take care of people who look like you—they say treat EVERY patient with incredible quality and safety. You aren't delivering on your mission, or hitting these margin-impacting metrics, if you aren't concerned about everyone.


Going a step beyond the metrics, here's an example. Recently, we had an Orthodox Jewish woman with 10 children come in to give birth to her 11th. The nurse asked why she hadn't figured out how to prevent this, which was the completely wrong thing to say and against the woman's religious beliefs. If the appropriate follow up with the mother to earn her trust back did not take place as quickly as it did, the encounter could have resulted in the entire Orthodox Jewish community surrounding that hospital choosing a different health system to deliver their babies, resulting in a loss of significant revenue stream. You can take this same type of story to any particular community with the same results. We can't do things that cause people to feel unwelcome or we lose significant business almost immediately.

Personally, I think it's morally our obligation, but our Board, which in recent years has become much more diverse and therefore provides more insightful and balanced guidance, has rightly pushed that the right thing itself isn't good enough. We need business reasons, and it has been clear to us that a focus here is good business.

Q: Can you give us some examples of what "a focus here" means?

Lynch: It starts with leadership. My senior team is measured on these goals, and four of my eight executive metrics revolve around diversity, respect, and inclusion efforts within our organization and in care for our patients. Both respect and inclusion in the workplace as well as equity of care to our patients are important to me. For instance, we have a policy that we will not switch a caregiver solely based on patient request unless there is a quality or skill-level reason. Imagine what it's like if you're an African-American nurse on a floor and you're being switched out because a racist patient does not want you touching them. That is unacceptable to us. We stand by our staff and want them to know they are valued and appreciated. We also want to ensure our patients receive high quality care, so we invest significant time in culturally competent care training in addition to other internal efforts.

What's behind Main Line Health's award-winning engagement strategy

Those other efforts include having a D&I council and every employee going through a six hour facilitated workshop on Diversity, Respect, and Inclusion (DRI). Additionally, every manager will go through 12 hours of DRI training—it's not sit there and listen, it's a facilitated workshop where you act and have activities.

As the demographics of the country change and as we are measured on quality of care for reimbursement, we see this as a moral and business obligation that will become our competitive differentiator in the market. This is why we invest so heavily.

Q: You're a passionate advocate for providing opportunity to all and creating a diverse environment emphasizing respect and inclusion. What would your immediate recommendations be for fellow health system executives?

Lynch: First, take the Equity Pledge to Act to Eliminate Health Care Disparities. This is a national issue important to all of us. Every hospital and health system should sign it.

Secondly, think about how you provide the power of opportunity. As a white male doctor's son, I was privileged to grow up with the opportunity to attend an elite private school, hold internships at health systems, and have support throughout my career to end up in the position I now hold.

I want to provide that same opportunity for those not winning a birth lottery. Therefore, at Main Line we only hire interns through the Institute for Diversity's Summer Enrichment Program, providing minority MHA students a paid internship at a hospital or health system. The program has been incredibly successful—our staff are proud of the opportunity we're providing, but we also learn a significant amount from these students, and have changed practices and policies many times based on their insights.

Q: Thank you Jack for your time. You're an inspiring leader, and your passion in this endeavor shines through clearly. Thank you for the work you are doing to eliminate disparities in care as well as opportunity. Any final words?

Lynch: I'd end with where I started—this is a moral obligation and a business issue. If everyone on your Board looks like you, you will not get a comprehensive viewpoint or make the best decision. If you're only treating effectively people who look like you, you are not living up to your mission nor maximizing revenue. If ALL staff don't feel respected, you are not maximizing engagement or retention. This is the right thing to do, it's also a business imperative. I encourage you to sign the equity pledge and invest internally in a diverse, inclusive culture.

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