As a child with a mother who couldn’t speak English, I often stepped in as her interpreter. This included hospital visits, where she had to share some of her most intimate health details through me because interpreters and bilingual staff weren’t available. I grew up in a community far different from what the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network has created — one that is more accessible to everyone. 

The health network, which covers Milwaukee and five counties in southeastern Wisconsin, is in the most segregated metro area in the country, with a population that’s 39% African American and 18% Hispanic/Latino. We must work extra hard to tear down the barriers to advance health equity for the minority populations by increasing access of care, outreach, and workplace diversity and inclusion.

Embed diversity and inclusion in every part of your organization

For us, that started with having senior leadership buy into a unified strategy and goal. Led by our chief executive officer and chief operating officer, our diversity council sets the tone and expectations for realizing a health care culture built on understanding and acceptance. To do this, we must get out in the community with a level of cultural humility to become a part of it.

Leverage local organizations and those partnerships

Part of our community involvement includes the city’s annual Mexican Fiesta. Besides working with the planning team, we set up health screenings, including for blood sugar. We found that 80% of the entire Hispanic/Latino community were pre-diabetic or diabetic. We wouldn’t have known how much this disease effects this community without showing up and taking the time to get the numbers. 

Create dedicated population-specific business resource groups that focus on patient care, recruitment and workforce development

Froedtert Health, as a community partner, continues to be intentional in engaging local organizations to create economic vitality for the community it serves. By leveraging anchor institutions in traditionally underserved communities, we give businesses and community members personal ownership and buy-in toward benefiting their own neighborhood. 

Using this knowledge, we’ve built new clinics to reach overlooked populations. Taking our mission and goals into account, we hired ethnic minority- and women-owned businesses and contractors to complete the work.   

Create and maintain a culture of equity, dignity and respect

We aren’t only about being visible in the community. It’s also about listening to each community’s concerns and building trust. What keeps them up at night? What can we do to help? We’re understanding the issues and addressing them, which in turn empowers individuals to seek the help they need.

A key part of integrating in our neighborhoods is our staff mirroring the local demographics. The Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network works with area schools, starting with eighth grade, and colleges to mentor students about health-related careers and encourage them to take part in internships. It’s important to us to see diversity from the top down and provide opportunities to advance.

If 10-year-old me walked into one of the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health centers or hospitals today, he’d see more than just Spanish-speaking staff. He’d see an academic health system devoted to caring for a diverse and inclusive community.

For additional resources to advance your organization’s health equity, diversity and inclusion efforts, visit www.diversityconnection.org.  

Andres Gonzalez, vice president and chief diversity officer, Froedtert Health, is responsible for overseeing the integration of diversity initiatives throughout the organization, including expanding workforce diversity and strengthening community relationships. He also is a board member at the AHA’s Institute for Diversity and Health Equity. 
 

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