Change is complex and requires analysis, strategy, and consistency. When lofty goals are active and in play, such as being the best pediatric hospital in the country, it is necessary to lead with intentionality, dedication, and accountability. For Michelle P. Wimes, JD, SVP, Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, improved health equity practice is the chance to level up patients’ and employees’ experience.
DEI and health equity are far from new concepts in corporate America, and intentionally, more progressive organizations like Children’s Mercy committed to DEI more than a decade ago. Although Wimes entered a mature DEI ecosystem when she started at Children’s Mercy, there is a different method she aims to bring. “I was thrilled to see people engaged throughout that ecosystem. I want to amplify their efforts with more evidence-based improvements and metric-driven accountability,” Wimes said. To quantify the organization’s effort, she is developing objectives around four key areas: workplace, workforce, marketplace, and community.
For Wimes, these key areas enhance innovative ideas into best practices and set the example for organizations beyond Children’s Mercy on DEI development. This quantifiable approach challenges all system elements and pushes the hospital to reevaluate everything. “For the workplace as an example, we are looking at the entire physical environment and making it a manifestation of inclusion. We ask many questions: ‘Do all of our patients feel welcome?’ and ‘Are we providing accessibility for everyone, both physically and for their communication?’ But it doesn’t stop there. Are we practicing what I call attitudinal accessibility? Are our staff members treating everyone with respect,” Wimes said.
Regarding the workforce, the focus is to ensure that Children’s Mercy hires from diverse backgrounds and demographics. Another is to ensure that the staff is presented with opportunities to develop and grow. The benefit of success in this area is less attrition resulting in momentum from being an inclusive workplace, regardless of who you are or where you come from.
Concerning the marketplace focus, Wimes sees an outlet to put the hospital’s money where its focus is. “Children’s Mercy has a significant number of vendors that supply all kinds of things to the hospital, but what are we doing to ensure that we are supporting a robust vendor diversity base,” Wimes said. This initiative focuses on increasing minority, women, disabled, and veteran-owned businesses. “We want to eliminate barriers for those diverse communities to do business with us.”
The final key area is the community; for Wimes, this has tremendous potential for long-lasting impact. “This is about relationships with our patients and employees outside the hospital, to know where they come from. If we can go outside our walls and upstream for our people, we can affect impacts to their health and well-being before the need arises for medical care,” Wimes said. This means identifying the cultural and social determinants of health, their health and well-being, education, transportation, and employment challenges. By understanding and showing up for these communities, there can be action toward a more equitable environment for everyone coming to Children’s Mercy.
Wimes is maximizing the opportunity to take the hospital and research institute to its highest standards by holding these focuses accountable at every desk within the organization. “At the end of the day, diversity, equity, and inclusion must be embedded in everything we do. It should be treated just like quality and safety. Every child and family deserve that,” Wimes said. “I would have to say it’s the people that drive me. I can improve the experience for patients and families who come to Children's Mercy. We can only do that if we make sure we're giving the best optimal experience.”
Children’s Mercy is up for this challenge. They know that to be the world’s top pediatric healthcare institution, they must achieve this intentional and accountable DEI environment. The analysis is complete, the strategy is in place, and the next step is consistent execution. The benefit will reverberate through all elements of the hospital, and the outcomes will be bigger than health equity. The result will be a stronger, more balanced, and healthier ecosystem where everyone wins equally.