Creating a Structure: The Beginning of Inclusiveness Work at CHC

It was time for the Children's Health Center's annual staff retreat, the first for new CEO Joe Anderson. After spending the morning in team-building activities, Joe introduced the idea of an inclusiveness initiative.

"I saw this work," he said, describing what he had been part of at the hospital. "It can be exciting. Transforming!" He explained how the initiative influenced every area of the hospital's operations, changing both the organization and those who participated.  "We changed how our outreach materials looked and how we answered our phones. We developed a ‘family connections' program, bringing together families with children who were extremely ill in support groups, including one for native Spanish speakers.

"One of my favorite changes revolved around how we received feedback from our patients. Before the initiative we had a comment box in the lobby of the clinic, and of course, we had to handle any complaints that came in through our phone banks. However, in the process of looking at who our customers were, we realized that many weren't literate enough to express their thoughts in writing, and many wouldn't share concerns with us over the phone because they didn't think it was polite. So we added a moment to the end of each nurse/patient or doctor/patient encounter - once a connection had been established with the patient - where we asked for any feedback on how our clinic worked. You wouldn't believe the responses we received, both positive and negative! And that was just the beginning..."

When Joe finished, clinical director Marcie Young spoke up. "Joe, you know I'm supportive of anything we can to do make our programs better. But this will take a lot of work. Are you ready to support us when this takes time away from our regular jobs?"

"Yes," Joe said. "Because I think this is critical to our regular jobs. If we want to keep up with the changes in our community, we have to do this."

"So how will this work, exactly?" asked Hector Gonzales. "The way this place operates, we don't have a whole lot of extra time."

"No, we don't," said Joe. "But we won't do this as a one-time effort. This is going to change how we do business. If it takes a long time, I'm fine with that. It's that important. Now I'd like us to break up into small groups and talk about what an inclusiveness initiative could mean to CHC."

When the groups reported back, they listed several possible benefits for the organization, such as more responsive programs, better outreach into the community, and a more diverse donor base. Joe sensed excitement from some in the room, and trepidation from others. A few members of the staff, including Melody Yee and Eleanor Wheaton, had been completely silent during the discussion.

"Tomorrow, I'm going to send out a job description for members of an internal Inclusiveness Committee. I hope several of you will volunteer, so that the committee includes a broad cross-section of our staff. I'll also be asking some Board members to participate. This group will lead our initiative from within. I'll serve as chair, at least until we get going," Joe explained. Several staff members nodded and made notes to themselves. After the retreat, Marcie and Trevor Smith both stopped Joe on his way to the parking lot to let him know they would be volunteering.

After Joe's e-mail the next day, Luisa Hernandez and Melody also volunteered. Joe went to Eleanor's office at the end of the day. "Eleanor, we could really use someone from development and community relations to participate in the Inclusiveness Committee. Yours is the only department that isn't represented," he said.

Eleanor paused, trying to discern whether Joe was hinting that she should participate. He was her new boss, after all. "Okay," Eleanor said. "I'll do it."

Later that evening, Joe spoke by phone with Alice Dreyfuss. "Mrs. Dreyfuss, we're starting the Inclusiveness Committee. I'd like to invite you to participate, and to extend the invitation to other Board members."

"Initiative? Oh, yes, I remember," Mrs. Dreyfuss said, without enthusiasm. "I'm afraid I'm much too busy, Joe. But I'll ask the rest of the Board when we meet next month."

Ten days later, the staff members of the Inclusiveness Committee met over a brown bag lunch to talk about the next steps. "We'll have at least one Board member join us before the next meeting, hopefully two," Joe said, "but I'd like to thank all of you for taking time to do this. I hope you will be as excited as I am about the potential this journey holds for CHC."

Joe distributed copies of a workbook on inclusiveness, which contained a description and road map of the process on which they were about to embark. He then asked committee members to take on various roles. Trevor volunteered to serve as recording secretary and communications liaison. He would make sure that the efforts of the committee were relayed to the rest of the staff, through regular postings of the minutes via e-mail and a monthly progress report. One of the exercises in the workbook described his duties and gave him pointers for how to communicate effectively with the staff. Melody offered to serve as scheduler, since she was responsible for booking CHC's conference rooms. Luisa agreed to provide refreshments for all of the meetings. "Now I'll have a chance to make my empanadas for you," she laughed. "Only, no complaining!"

As they left the room, Marcie stayed behind. "Joe, I have to hand it to you, this is really something. I never thought I'd see Melody volunteer for something. She's usually so quiet."

"I know," Joe said. "And I hope that was only the first of the miracles we'll see."