Diverse leaders aid culturally competent care

Rachel Polhemus
Rachel Polhemus

Long-term care organizations are in the hunt for a new generation of female and minority leaders. They want their C-suites to reflect the needs and cultural perspectives of the patients they serve and the staff they hire. This thinking demonstrates a commitment to culturally competent care, where caregivers are respectful and responsive to different backgrounds and their impact on healthy outcomes.

There is increasing pressure to find such leaders as post-acute patient populations become more diverse. For example, a Brown University study reported that minority populations living in nursing homes grew at a fast pace between 1998 and 2008: Hispanic residents increased by 54.9%, Asian residents increased by 54.1% and African-Americans residents increased by 10.8%. This huge boost in minority patients means that nursing homes and other settings have to work even harder to attract leaders who match their demographics.

Diversity: business builder but tough to achieve

A 2011 study of diversity in healthcare leadership conducted by executive search firm Witt/Kieffer pointed out a disconnect between beliefs and actions. Survey participants reported strong support for diverse leadership as a valuable business-builder, associating it with improved patient satisfaction, successful decision-making, reaching strategic goals, improving clinical outcomes and a stronger bottom line. As one CEO respondent from the Midwest explained, “We have to serve the community that we are in. Racial, religious and cultural needs must be met. Having the appropriate leadership indicates a strong attempt to connect with the community.” 

Yet healthcare organizations are struggling to close the minority leadership gap, with only 13% of the survey respondents agreeing that the gap has been effectively closed. One respondent lamented, “This issue is a shame nationally that in 2011 we still do not have more diverse leaders of healthcare organizations.”

Talent hunt for promising leaders

Many long-term care organizations are approaching their need for diverse leadership in a purposeful, mission-driven way. Witt/Kieffer recently completed executive searches for a mid-Atlantic continuing care retirement community (CCRC) that provides nursing home and assisted living care. A female CEO was successfully recruited and minority candidates were presented, but not selected, for the CFO position. This year Witt/Kieffer's senior care search consultants are beginning a search process for a New England home health and hospice provider who wants to diversify their executive team to more closely reflect the patients they serve.

Viewing the national leadership landscape, high-potential diverse leaders are often found within human resources, operations and service lines. It can be more challenging to recruit diverse candidates for Chief Nursing Officers, Chief Financial Officers and Chief Information Officers in healthcare. As long-term care organizations respond to healthcare reform by consolidating and partnering with other providers, there is growing demand for strategic planners and business developers who understand the dynamics of the post-acute world. Healthcare organizations do not want to miss out on the talent hunt and sometimes turn to other industries to find promising and creative leaders.

Mentoring emerges as No.1 best practice, according to survey

Looking forward, more institutions are putting support systems in place to mentor up-and-comers. When a minority leader is promoted, some organizations pair the individual with a senior executive who can provide advice, connect him or her to decision makers and mentor progress. Such support often leads to faster on-the-job productivity, career satisfaction and longer retention: a win-win for all parties involved in long-term care. 

Rachel Loeb Polhemus, MBA, MHA, is a healthcare search consultant at Witt/Kieffer.

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