As a leading provider of health care in Colorado, UCHealth realizes the importance of diversity and inclusion in its hospitals and clinics and is striving to continue to build a culture that is supportive of all people regardless of their background.
To formalize that philosophy of inclusion and diversity, a UCHealth team led by Deborah Jones, director of Employee Health, Wellbeing and Diversity, has created a statement that celebrates those values.
“At UCHealth, we improve lives by cultivating an inclusive culture that respects and celebrates differences and commonalities. We welcome and encourage diversity of thought, enabling us to better serve our communities and empowering our patients and families to live extraordinary lives.”
The statement serves as the foundation for an effort to emphasize, celebrate and raise awareness about inclusivity at UCHealth for everyone, including employees and patients.
“A lot of times, people believe that when we talk about diversity, it is simply racial diversity, but it’s not just that. Diversity comes in all forms including age, sexual identity, gender identity, veterans’ status, disabilities, and so much more,’’ Jones said.
Our employees and medical staff are increasingly diverse in many categories. The goal behind the year-long effort to draft a formal statement is, first and foremost, to give due respect, dignity and sensitivity to all people.
It is important, Jones said, that patients are surrounded by a workforce that closely mirrors the diverse demographics of the communities that UCHealth serves, so that the environment of care reflects the community at large.
“When you come to UCHealth, we want you to look around and feel comfortable in your surroundings,’’ explained Chief Human Resources Officer Dallis Howard-Crow. “Whether you are a patient or an employee, you should feel welcome here.
“Each of our regions has demonstrated a commitment to our people, patients and providers to create an environment where people feel safe, included and accepted. Formalizing our philosophy into a written document provides each of us with a foundation of trust that diversity and inclusion is a priority at UCHealth.”
While each region at UCHealth has already had initiatives to address diversity and inclusion, formal Diversity Committees will be established in each region – Northern Colorado, Metro Denver, Colorado Springs – and a committee also will serve the Community Hospitals Division.
Those committees will help spark conversations and launch activities that speak to UCHealth’s philosophy of respecting all individuals. Examples of learning opportunities might include how to respectfully ask a transgender patient for their preferred pronoun, or care considerations for patients of different religious traditions. Although activities will likely start small, such as celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, the direction for the future will be largely influenced by this group of employee volunteers.
Gwen Martinez, a nurse and clinical informatics specialist who works to ensure that Epic, UCHealth’s electronic medical record system, is robust with accurate information, has served on the Inclusion Committee at Memorial Hospital for several months.
“We want to be inclusive in our medical records. We have a patient portal, where people can review their medical records and proactively provide personal information. Patients can tell us their preferred name, their religion and any sensitive information that they would like to provide. It saves the patient from having awkward conversations with people,’’ Martinez said.
When that information is provided, it is kept and stored and only needs to be re-verified, but not re-submitted with each visit to a UCHealth hospital or clinic.
“We want patients to feel comfortable and to refer to us,’’ Martinez said. “People who feel excluded don’t seek care and they may end up in the Emergency Department and, often, their condition is so much worse at that point.’’
Martinez said that when she goes into a coffee shop, and the employees remember her by name – and her beverage of choice – it “makes me feel good, and it makes me feel important, and it makes me more loyal to that coffee shop and to that brand. UCHealth does this through Epic by remembering your preferred name, ethnicity, religion, medical history and allergies so clinicians do not have to ask the patient again and again,’’ Martinez said.
Jones, who led the effort, said the first step is to let people know that the statement exists, and “then begin to educate people on personal bias – everyone has it. But unless you actually stop and try to think about it, it is just there and it won’t change. Your unconscious biases are going to affect you– whether you realize it or not – and can impact your daily interactions. If we can identify our own biases, we can start to overcome stereotypes.’’
In drafting the statement, employees from across UCHealth were invited to write down words associated with diversity and inclusion, duplicate words were eliminated, and then work began on crafting the statement.
Carol Reagan, an Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 1557 ACA coordinator for UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, participated in the exercise. “I think it sets the tone for patients and employees, promoting equal access, and equity in everything that we do.
“It attracts a more diverse workforce and patients feel more comfortable when they know that people who look like them also work here,’’ Reagan said. “When patients see a diverse workforce, they know that UCHealth is serious about inclusion. It is one thing to say what you’re going to do, another thing to show what you are going to do, so actions speak louder than words.’’
Reagan, who has worked at UCHealth for 18 months, said she has had “a positive experience working here. It’s definitely a journey for UCHealth, not a destination. We need to continuously work on diversity and inclusion, which means accepting people for who they are and where they are and making sure everyone’s voice is heard and incorporating different points of view in policies and practices.’’
Cris Romero Rangel, a certified medical assistant at UCHealth, said the statement is a sign that UCHealth wants all patients to feel at ease.
“Anything that makes a patient more comfortable, especially if they’re coming to a place where they haven’t been before, we want to make them more comfortable. By opening doors and addressing language barriers, religious barriers or sexual orientation, we become more connected to patients,’’ Romero Rangel said.
Ean Mccrystal, a nurse in the inpatient psychiatric unit at Mountain Crest Behavioral Health Center in Fort Collins, said she welcomes the statement.
“This goes toward safe, patient-centered care,’’ Mccrystal said. “It says that we offer patients respect and dignity, no matter what. In health care, we treat all kinds of patients who have different kinds of backgrounds and our goal is to provide the very best treatment and care.’’
As a psych nurse, Mccrystal said she often works with patients with gender variance, transgender and LGBTQI patients who struggle with identity and gender. These patients often do not seek treatment because of lack of support and a history of judgment and bias towards them. A visible display of support by health care professionals helps build trust and erodes hesitance to seek health care in the future.
“A lot of these people are not getting support at home, so my hope is that as these efforts become more established at UCHealth, they will see a more visible show of support and feel more comfortable seeking appropriate care here,’’ Mccrystal said.
UCHealth’s statement of support for diversity and inclusion, Jones said, is foundational to continue building an environment that is welcoming for patients, visitors and employees.
“This statement helps us let everyone know that we are an organization that above all values people, and we are determined every day to live extraordinary lives,’’ Jones said.