Si­nai boosts mi­nor­ity board rep­re­sen­ta­tion

Modern Healthcare - - BEST PRACTICES - By Mau­reen McKin­ney

When Alan Chan­ning took the helm of Si­nai Health Sys­tem in 2004, the Chicago safety net sys­tem had made mod­est strides in di­ver­si­fy­ing its board of trustees. But with mi­nor­ity rep­re­sen­ta­tion on Si­nai’s board hov­er­ing around the 10% to 12% mark, Chan­ning wanted to do far more to re­cruit di­verse can­di­dates.

Lo­cated on Chicago’s West Side, Si­nai serves an over­whelm­ingly mi­nor­ity pa­tient pop­u­la­tion, many of whom are low-in­come. Roughly 92% of the pa­tients treated at its flag­ship fa­cil­ity, 290-bed Mount Si­nai Hos­pi­tal, are black or Latino, ac­cord­ing to state data from 2010.

That di­ver­sity needs to be re­flected on the hos­pi­tal’s board, said Chan­ning, who re­tired in June as the sys­tem’s CEO.

“Some­one from the North Shore of Chicago is not go­ing to be able to un­der­stand the needs of North Lawn­dale as well as some­one who grew up in the com­mu­nity,” he said, re­fer­ring to higher- and lower-in­come Chicagoarea neigh­bor­hoods. “If you’re go­ing to ad­dress the needs of your pa­tient base, one of the most ef­fec­tive ways to do it is through gov­er­nance.”

Si­nai’s new CEO, Karen Teit­el­baum, called board di­ver­sity “es­sen­tial to the well-be­ing of the health sys­tem.”

Di­verse boards bring per­spec­tives that can help ad­dress health dis­par­i­ties and im­prove pa­tient out­comes, said Fred Hobby, CEO of the Amer­i­can Hos­pi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion-af­fil­i­ated In­sti­tute for Di­ver­sity in Health Man­age­ment. “It’s not about hav­ing mi­nori­ties on boards for the sake of ap­pear­ances,” he said. “There is a tremen­dous in­her­ent value to it.”

De­spite that value, mi­nor­ity rep­re­sen­ta­tion on most hos­pi­tal boards lags. Ac­cord­ing to the in­sti­tute’s most re­cent na­tional bench­mark­ing sur­vey, 14% of hos­pi­tal board trustees were mi­nori­ties, while the per­cent­age of mi­nor­ity pa­tients was 31%, Hobby said. Sta­tis­tics from AHA’s Cen­ter for Health­care Gov­er­nance an­nual sur­vey were even bleaker, show­ing roughly 10% non-white rep­re­sen­ta­tion on boards, said Dr. John Combes, the cen­ter’s pres­i­dent.

Board recruitment draws heav­ily from so­cial and pro­fes­sional net­works where mi­nor­ity can­di­dates might not be ac­tive, Combes said. Hos­pi­tal lead­ers need to be proac­tive about mov­ing be­yond those usual cir­cles, he added.

Dur­ing Chan­ning’s ten­ure at Si­nai, the health sys­tem formed a board recruitment com­mit­tee and in­ten­si­fied its ef­forts to cre­atively search out and re­cruit mi­nor­ity can­di­dates.

One such can­di­date was Sharon Ross­mark, whom Chan­ning met at a mi­nor­ity trus­tee train­ing and net­work­ing event in 2008 or­ga­nized by the Cen­ter for Health­care Gov­er­nance and the In­sti­tute for Di­ver­sity in Health Man­age­ment. “I walked in and asked the staff who the most im­pres­sive can­di­date was, and they all pointed to Sharon,” Chan­ning said.

Hobby ap­plauded Chan­ning’s ef­forts to search out highly qual­i­fied mi­nor­ity pro­fes­sion­als for Si­nai’s board. He said the AHA has since spon­sored one-day trus­tee ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams across the coun­try, and has built a search­able reg­istry of more than 600 mi­nor­ity can­di­dates in­ter­ested in serv­ing on hos­pi­tal boards.

The goal of the train­ing pro­gram and the reg­istry, Hobby said, is to make it eas­ier for hos­pi­tals that want more di­verse trustees.

But he ac­knowl­edged that he knows of only about 35 or 40 of the peo­ple on the reg­istry who ac­tu­ally have been tapped to serve on a board. “It’s a mys­tery why there hasn’t been more up­take,” he said. “To some ex­tent, I think it’s com­fort level and, to a lesser ex­tent, maybe a lack of va­can­cies.”

The trus­tee ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram did prove use­ful for Ross­mark, who heads Zayos Global Ven­tures, a liq­ui­da­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion con­sult­ing firm. Months af­ter her ini­tial meet­ing with Chan­ning, she was named to Si­nai’s board and now serves as its vice chair. Cur­rently, 11 of Si­nai’s 30 board mem­bers, or 37%, are mi­nori­ties.

“It bog­gles my mind why in this day and age hos­pi­tals wouldn’t try to find di­verse can­di­dates,” Ross­mark said. “It’s the best way to un­der­stand the com­mu­nity you serve.”

Chan­ning and Ross­mark credit Si­nai’s di­verse board with help­ing to usher in a host of im­prove­ments, in­clud­ing cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive menu of­fer­ings, bet­ter trans­la­tion ser­vices and a more proac­tive strat­egy for re­duc­ing high mor­tal­ity rates among black women with breast can­cer.

“If you are not ag­gres­sively look­ing for peo­ple who can rep­re­sent your pa­tients, you’re not ful­fill­ing your obli­ga­tion as a com­mu­nity provider,” Chan­ning said. “It’s that sim­ple.”

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