HealthEast: Faith-Based, Patient Focused

HealthEast Care System’s mission is rooted in Judeo-Christian values, but it has readily embraced all dimensions of diversity, particularly in its workforce.

By 2035, some 48 percent of Ramsey Co., Minn., where HealthEast is based, will be made up of people of color. Elizabeth Anderson, the organization’s system director for equitable care, said that carrying out its values requires looking at diversity in a new way.

HealthEast’s board of directors ramped up its commitment to workforce diversity by adopting two strategic plans. One of Anderson’s first tasks when she was hired in 2009 was to launch the Equitable Care Strategic Plan, which aims to align with the organization’s goal of being a leader in clinical quality patient experience and cost-effectiveness and to provide the best value by 2015. Embedded in the plan was a new goal: Create an inclusive environment where all patients receive high-quality, culturally responsive care and all employees are engaged in achieving quality outcomes.

“This statement did not exist before,” Anderson said. “It’s a time-bound goal, and it’s very intentional. Then we went before the board again to [home] in on our employees. Another strategic plan was written and adopted in June 2010.”

Prior to 2004, the company’s diversity initiatives were more site-based. But that year the board reinforced a commitment to being more welcoming across the entire system.

Growing diverse populations, including Hmong — former refugees from Laos — Somalis and Muslims, laid the foundation for an inclusive, faith-based philosophy. Until 2009, Anderson said the organization worked to identify opportunities such as increasing interpreter services, offering cross-cultural manager and physician training, aligning patient data with factors such as race and evaluating patient satisfaction scores.

Since June 2010, when the strategic plan was implemented, HealthEast’s HR diversity council drafted key messages that broadly define diversity. Anderson said this will ensure the organization recognizes both visible and invisible diversity while creating an inclusive culture.

For example, she said HealthEast wants LGBT patients and employees to feel as included and valued as their heterosexual counterparts. The company implemented Equitable Care Action Teams at different sites to promote inclusion.

“One of our hospitals, St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood, has an Equitable Care Action Team,” Anderson said. “The two-pronged focus is on employees and on patients because we know our patients cannot get that great quality care unless we have great employees delivering that care.

“The work on including our LGBT patients and employees was actually driven by an [openly] gay nurse at the hospital. She helped create a curriculum on serving our LGBT patients and sensitivity to employees. We have about nine classes that have come on board since I started in 2009. We call it our Equitable Care Continuing Education Curriculum, and they involve everything from classic employment law 101 to managing a diverse workforce, equitable care [and] practical skills.”

Anderson said this year the organization is also testing some more controversial classes. It has partnered with local organization The St. Paul Foundation to offer classes on conversations about race, racism and white privilege that are open to all of its more than 7,000 employees.

The work seems to be paying off. Anderson said that, at least anecdotally, HealthEast’s culture seems more welcoming and inclusive. She said the organization is also the health care community of choice for two large immigrant populations in the Twin Cities area — Hmong and Karen, former refugees from Thailand and Burma.

“On the market share side, I have interpreter services roll up through my area, and we had 22,000 interpreter staff contacts last year,” she said. “That’s critical for our bottom line.”