Sinai boosts minority board representation
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.”