All throughout the country, people are reckoning with the realities of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. And while millions take to the streets as well as their social media channels to say Black Lives Matter, there are still some who react to this simple statement with rancor. They perpetuate racism and racial biases. At DispatchHealth, we believe with all our hearts in diversity, equity, and inclusivity.
From the company’s inception, these values have driven DispatchHealth. But as Mark Prather, CEO and cofounder of the company explains, now more than ever, there needs to be more than a belief in something to make it real. “We need to formalize it and institutionalize it,” he says.
In fact, DispatchHealth is so committed to being a diverse and inclusive organization, that in addition to making it a formal pillar of the company and instituting HR policies, the company has launched its own internal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee.
As Mark explains, “When you start a company, everything is built from scratch. For DispatchHealth, diversity and inclusivity was a value from the get-go.” But back in 2015 and the few years that followed, he says, “the approach was organic. I knew everyone in the company. That’s how it is with a startup: up until a point, the founder is the culture. But once you become a company in 24 markets all across the country, culture needs to become intentional.”
And there was another reason why Mark wanted to do more. If he were to simply rely on himself, he says it would have been a situation where there was a “Middle-aged white guy teaching how to be diverse,” and then quickly points out: “That’s an awful idea!”
The tipping point was the tragic and unnecessary death of George Floyd, which forced the nation to not only examine the issue of police violence, but of systemic racial (and other) inequalities in a nation where every individual is supposed to be equal and free.
Mark spoke about this at a company Town Hall in the summer of 2020. “This was one of the ideas that came out of it.” Two executives immediately volunteered.
Chief Medical Officer, Phil Mitchell, who’s been with the company since its inception was one of them. “We initiated it a few months ago and are in the process of setting up many [items]. I serve as co-sponsor. The DEI committee is organized by four others: Cammie Blais, Bek Coelho, Carah Campini, and Myung Kim. Dave Dookeeram is the other co-sponsor.”
Dookeeram, who is also the company’s Chief of Staff, says they’ve been hard at work. The committee, he says, has “researched DEI [Diversity, Equity, Inclusion] models nationwide and represent the organization in a statewide DEI campaign; kicked off a ‘lunch and learn’ series covering topics such as hiring bias, created engagement activities to broaden the conversation and share personal experiences in our company-wide communications; supported efforts to increase diversity in our internal and external facing collateral, completed a nationwide nomination and evaluation process of employees who will comprise a core committee and support committee for DEI efforts at DispatchHealth.”
The core committee will be up and running as of November, 2020. “The members are from throughout the entire organization both geographically and in terms of their scope within the organization (from Market director to call center staff).” In addition to the core members, Phil says, “We also have many members as part of the overall committee as we felt that 10 core members was best to be able to function well, but we wanted every single employee that had any interest in this committee to feel that they could join and contribute.”
Mark feels hopeful that the committee will help DispatchHealth to become a true leader when it comes to diversity and inclusion. “Race, gender, orientation—the committee will be making sure the policies at DispatchHealth, the hiring at DispatchHealth, are all in line. They’ll look at ratios, and will also make sure that we are marketing to groups to draw a diverse workforce.”
“Our HR department has always had policies and procedures,” he stresses. “But with the committee, it’s not just top-down. It will also feel bottom-up.”
Dave says the committee “has been collaborative and intentional about establishing a strong framework that will enable DispatchHealth to have robust conversations about important topics and goals and move forward with initiatives that are led by employees in a constructive manner.” And rather than just intermittently providing updates when they’ve completed their own initiatives, Dave explains that, “It is important…that we communicate progress and encourage input as we move forward.”
They all agree that a more diverse staff is a stronger staff. And the healthcare industry has not traditionally been a space that has always been staffed by the most diverse workforce. But there’s another benefit that they see to having more diverse and inclusive personnel: the patients and the care they receive. “We see diversity, equity and inclusion as The DispatchWay and we want these principles to be infused into our work,” Dave says, referring to a formal internal term that describes the official values of the company.
Mark elaborates: “At DispatchHealth, our mission is to treat medically complex and socially complex individuals. We treat everyone, but that’s our sweet spot. And within that segment, patients misuse or over-utilize hospital services, and that costs them a lot of money. But now, we can give them concierge-like service at a lower cost. But in order for us to do that we need to look like our patients.”
Specifically, he says, “There’s fear in some of those populations.” That fear may not be off-base, as some studies have confirmed that there can be biases and other issues when it comes to white doctors treating patients of color. The fear of being the subject of these biases can keep a patient in need from making a call.
A more diverse DispatchHealth, then, can better address a more diverse population.
“We are all different in ways based upon our upbringing, place of origin, color, gender, ethnicity, but this is what makes us better. We feel that as an organization that is diverse, understands what it means to be diverse, works in diverse communities, and is inclusive of all people, we have a better opportunity to serve, to provide care to those that may not otherwise get this high level of care in their home or any other location,” Phil Mitchell says. “By being an organization that does not tolerate racism, or discrimination in any way, we believe that it will help us succeed in terms of our ability to grow.”
Dave also has the company’s growth on his mind when it comes to the committee’s work. “Our goal is to create an enduring DEI initiative that will be a safe space for people to share their ideas and experiences, advance important initiatives and keep DEI principles at the heart of the company as we grow.”
Counterintuitively, Phil says an ultimate goal for the committee would be its dissolution. “Don’t get me wrong,” he says. “I believe that these committees/groups within organizations are priceless. My sister is an OB/Gyn and dean of a medical school in NJ, where she chairs the school’s DEI committee. I have strong feelings that businesses are better if they understand DEI issues. My point is that I want us to be at a level where we are so progressive in terms of DEI that we do not need ongoing reminders, discussion groups, organized outings, or any committee to drive this. It drives itself because we live the values of the committee in all aspects of the company.”
Of course, that day isn’t here yet. So as Phil says, “Until then, we will do our best to be an employer that supports all of our differences and, in fact, celebrates them.”