Press Ganey 2020 NCC: HFHS's Wright Lassiter Shares View of DEI as a Core Value

Added on Dec 16, 2020

By Lauren Keeley

Every health care system has a unique responsibility to understand and respond to its community’s diverse needs, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) President and CEO Wright L. Lassiter III stressed in an interview with Press Ganey Chairman and CEO Patrick Ryan during Press Ganey’s 2020 Virtual National Client Conference in November.

We have a society that has not been willing to hold us all accountable for the notion that diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice are fundamental,” Lassiter told the 4,200 conference attendees. “We need to find ways to get back to the fundamental belief that there are more things binding us together than separating us.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has surely intensified this theme, with health care workers from all backgrounds and skill sets coming together to treat those infected with the virus. And the unprecedented challenges have strengthened that which truly binds health care workers together: a desire to reduce patient suffering. At the same time, the pandemic has brought to the fore places where health care can and should be better, including making equity a core value, both for patients and the care workforce. To this end, a rapidly growing list of health systems nationwide have joined the Press Ganey Equity Partnership with the goal of understanding and eliminating health care disparities and racial inequities that contribute to avoidable suffering.

During the pandemic, Lassiter has remained steadfast in his commitment to supporting the well-being of his workforce and the needs of a diverse patient population. He has led HFHS to meaningfully address gaps, specifically along the lines of transparent communication, receptiveness to feedback from the front lines, an unwavering focus on caregiver safety, and the primacy of DEI in everything the organization does. HFHS has been nationally recognized as a leader in diversity and inclusion work, but Lassiter is quick to point out that there is always more work to be done.

“When I talk about the importance of addressing issues of DEI, I’m not speaking about it only as the talking head of an organization, but in terms of fundamental belief. At HFHS, we have believed for a long time that, if our purpose as an organization is to improve people’s lives, we cannot do that unless there is 100% commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and, ultimately, justice,” Lassiter said.

HFHS leadership have hardwired DEI into the system through a Diversity Forum, chaired by Lassiter, and Diversity Councils, headed by leaders from across the organization. These efforts focus on everything from pay equity across gender and racial lines to methods for aggregating and displaying clinical data to reveal trends across various demographics. They have also made sure that the HFHS board reflects the communities the system serves and sets clear expectations for senior management that are consistent with the organization’s DEI goals and objectives.

“Committing to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice does not mean that everyone at the organization—all 35,000 employees—must believe the same thing,” Lassiter said. “But it does mean when they talk about their common values, such as respect and compassion, what is expected of all employees is simply that they treat patients and colleagues as they would treat themselves and their families.” With every initiative put forth, Lassiter and the workforce at HFHS lean into this guiding mandate.

“I see this as a work in progress that we have to continue to work through on a day-to-day basis,” he stressed. “Then, hopefully, we can reduce the gap between today and what’s possible.”