*Article below was recently featured in the November issue of Catholic Health World
by LISA EISENHAUER
SEATTLE — The importance of diversity in the executive ranks of health care and the value of having and being mentors and sponsors were recurring topics at the annual leadership summit convened by the National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives.
The theme of the summit held in mid-September was "moving the needle."
Many speakers discussed the need for health systems to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion so that they have staffs and executives whose races, ethnicities and cultures mirror those of the people outside their doors.
Marcos Pesquera, right, system vice president for community health and chief diversity officer at CHRISTUS Health, chats with Noel J. Cardenas, an executive at two hospitals in Houston, during a session of the leadership summit convened by the National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives. Pesquera is president and chair of the association.
"We need to represent at every level of the organization the patient population that we're serving," Marcos Pesquera said during his remarks. "That is not any kind of discrimination whatsoever. We want to represent because there's plenty of proven research that says that congruency matters and trust grows a lot quicker."
Pesquera, system vice president for community health and chief diversity officer at CHRISTUS Health, is president and chair of the association, which has grown to almost 3,000 members and 17 chapters since its founding in 2005. Five of those chapters were added just this year.
'It was not easy'
One of the association's goals is to increase the number of Latinos in executive health care posts beyond the current 2%.
Naydu Lucas (above), chief nursing officer at two Northern California hospitals, Providence St. Joseph Hospital Eureka and Providence Redwood Memorial Hospital in Fortuna, was part of a panel discussion about how Latina leaders are making their voices heard.
Lucas talked about the challenges she faced after she decided to transition from finance to health care at the age of 30 and to build a new life in the United States, far from her native Colombia. One of the challenges, she said, was that her accented English led to her being dismissed as not capable of handling a leadership role.
She nevertheless went on to get a doctorate in nursing practice and within eight years had reached her goal of becoming a chief nursing officer.
"It was not easy at all," she said. "There was a lot of discrimination through the way and a lot of being held back, but I had the power of conviction that I'm going to succeed in this country."
Lucas credited two people in particular with guiding her as she climbed the ladder. One of them was a clinical leader who helped her develop management skills so she could move to the next level of her career. The other was Ron Rehn, a chief administrative officer within Providence, who inspired her to stay with a mission-driven system that shared her values.
Nowadays Lucas mentors many people herself. She even signed up to be a mentor at the summit. She urges her protegees to be optimistic, even if they face discrimination. "I keep repeating over and over: If one door closes, another one better will open and just keep trying. Never, never, never give up," Lucas said.
Inspired to touch lives
Gerardo Flores, senior vice president and chief nurse executive at CHRISTUS Health, joined a panel discussion of how insights become opportunities. Flores shared how a cut hand prompted a trip to an emergency room at a Sisters of Mercy hospital in Laredo, Texas, when he was a teenager. While there, he saw the medical staff resuscitate a patient in cardiac arrest
"And as I watched the entire team work on this man, I was totally brought into the process," recalled Flores, who at the time was a high school dropout. "I didn't care about my hand anymore. What I was thinking is, what an incredible opportunity to touch lives, what an incredible opportunity to serve."
Flores said he found mentors as soon as he stepped into a nursing assistant position. He credited them for guiding him along a path that eventually led to a doctorate in nursing practice and an executive post.
An important aspect of his mentors was that they shared his Latino culture and his values, Flores said. "There were things that I needed to overcome that would encourage me to follow my dream, and sometimes that meant even sacrificing some of what we value so much in the Latino culture, which is time with our families," he explained.
His best advice to others who want to follow his footsteps, Flores said, would be: "Stay true to yourself. Be authentic."
'We are familia'
Pesquera enumerated the pillars of the Latino executive association's mission — capacity building, growth, strategic alliances, and advocacy and policy — during a discussion that covered some of the highlights of its 18-year history. To further that mission, he said, will require grooming new leaders.
"We have to continue to turn around, sponsor, mentor and help the pipeline, while not forgetting in the midst of our focus and our seriousness about the work that we're doing, we have to have fun," he said. "And we are familia, so don't forget about your culture in the process."
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