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Organizational Diversity, Inclusion Drive Improved Patient Outcomes

April 09, 2021

The push to make organizations more diverse and inclusive has become a significant priority across every industry, often dictated from the C-suite. Research shows that diverse and inclusive organizations tend to have higher levels of employee engagement, satisfaction and retention. These characteristics lead to cost savings from reduced turnover and a healthier corporate culture and working environment. Offering training to and enabling dialogue among employees about diversity and inclusion has demonstrated positive effects on work outcomes and fostered more robust professional networks and interpersonal relationships.

But, in the healthcare industry, these results also indicate that greater diversity among clinical personnel may improve patient and treatment outcomes.

A recent report from the Harvard Business Review suggests that trust between Black doctors and Black patients led to those patients more actively seeking out preventative care services. That’s why addiction treatment organizations must become champions for diversity and inclusion measures in both staffing and training.

Diversity and inclusion in treatment

Now, let’s look at this through the lens of addiction treatment. A patient seeking treatment for a substance use disorder may build a stronger connection to a provider with the same cultural or ethnic background, and then better communicate their healthcare needs. I am currently leading an ambitious hiring program at my organization that is committed to recruiting and building a clinical staff that is itself more racially diverse, making a particular effort to hire more professionals with varying backgrounds and life experiences, including people in recovery, who have dealt with substance use disorder first-hand. I am eager to see the impact this has on how patients interact with their counselors, clinicians, and therapists, during their recovery journey.

In the previously mentioned HBR report, Dr. Anupam Jena, a Massachusetts General Hospital physician, said, “We should be aware that empathy and understanding of your patient, perhaps through shared experiences, might have an important causal impact on health.” It’s imperative that, as an industry, we adopt this mindset in our treatment programs, to ensure treatment staff handle patient cases with empathy and a deep understanding of the disease of addiction.

Adopting and championing organizational diversity and inclusion

As organizations continue to reach new, more diverse communities in need of treatment, they should commit to building or bolstering a staff whose makeup reflects the patients they serve — both racially and culturally. Setting this example early will establish a precedent for how treatment teams should be built across the entire recovery industry.

Over the past year, Ashley Addiction Treatment has enhanced its employee recruitment strategy to foster a more diverse prospective talent pool. We have done so by creating a more robust employee and prospective employee portal to learn more about the organization and benefits, available positions, and stories about employees and opportunities that are then shared on social media platforms such as LinkedIn. We’ve begun more extensive outreach and recruiting efforts to draw from a broader, more diverse pool of job candidates, across every level of the organization.

Part of building is conversation about diversity, and inclusion is the creation and use of acceptable and encouraged terms to address concepts, ideas, and perspectives. The Racial Equity Committee at Ashley Addiction Treatment has created a racial equity vocabulary list, which we’ve shared with our entire organization. We also frequently share and explain terms from this list on our public social media channels to publicly advocate the use of inclusive vocabulary. 

Additionally, we have launched a diversity and inclusion panel that meets twice a month where all employees can discuss inclusion, communication and empathy in an open environment, as well as an LBGTQ+ initiative that provides safe spaces across our inpatient campus for queer employees and patients to meet privately.

Since the implementation of these initiatives, we have seen a more inclusive culture emerge among employees and patients on our inpatient campus — and we’re actively working to make similar changes at our outpatient locations. By serving as champions of diversity and inclusion, we’re confident and excited to set an example across the full healthcare community.

Start simple and iterate

Adopting and implementing diversity and inclusion efforts within your organization can start simple. Doing so allows initiative leaders to understand areas where there is the greatest opportunity to create moments and spaces for education, growth, reflection and policy implementation. To start, consider creating a task force or focus group composed of a diverse set of employees from every level within your organization. Meet regularly to discuss members’ personal experiences, and point out opportunities to roll out education, inclusion programs, or make operational adjustments.

From there, construct a roadmap that prioritizes efforts against a timeline for implementation and assessment. After each effort is implemented, calculate how successful the program or plan is, and collectively determine if there are additional opportunities to iterate and improve. Look for additional feedback from external stakeholders, and continually communicate new rollouts and opportunities for additional members of your organization to become involved.

At the core of every treatment model should be compassionate, innovative care methods that help patients live fuller, healthier lives. As Ashley Addiction Treatment builds a more diverse and inclusive staff to cater to an increasingly diverse patient community, we’ll continually evaluate and benchmark our performance with both staff and patient satisfaction and outcomes.

Tosha Hershey is vice president of talent management for Ashley Addiction Treatment.

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