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Massini, Black share changes made following June race relations town halls

Steven Massini, Penn State Health CEO, and Dr. Kevin Black, College of Medicine interim dean, shared changes made following a series of race relations town halls in the following email sent to Penn State Health and College of Medicine staff, faculty and students on Sept. 24.

Dear Colleagues,

Many of us were deeply affected during the racial justice town halls held across our organization in June. We learned of the extent of bias – unconscious and conscious – that our Black colleagues and learners are experiencing on our campuses and in our communities and, since that time, we have been reminded that bias impacts many diverse populations. For example, a congregation in Harrisburg was recently the victim of a hate crime after someone painted swastikas on their synagogue.

We have been reviewing the many thoughtful recommendations from the town halls, as well as those from a diversity task force report prepared by faculty and learners within the College of Medicine. The key messages from your feedback are that we need to be more deliberate in creating a respectful and inclusive work and educational environment; we need to provide education on addressing issues that most impact our workforce, particularly microaggressions and unconscious bias; and we need to increase the diversity of our workforce and student populations.

Today, we want to share some of the changes that have been made as a result of those town hall conversations. And, we invite you to another town hall at noon, Wednesday, Sept. 30, at which time Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Lynette Chappell-Williams will share our next steps toward addressing structural racism and how you can get involved. Lynette also will tell you about a series of future town halls that will focus on other diverse populations, including breaking down barriers for people with disabilities, supporting our military and first responders, community challenges facing our LGBTQ colleagues and workplace challenges facing women.

As an employer, educator and health care provider, we want to be known for excellence in diversity and inclusiveness in our policies, our practices and, most importantly, our culture. Here are some of the actions we have already taken since the town halls:

  • Penn State Health now has a systemwide chief diversity officer. Lynette’s role has been elevated; you can read about it here. Lynette will continue in her role as the college’s associate dean for diversity and inclusion.
  • The Penn State Health Board of Directors last week approved revisions to the health system’s mission and vision statements and adopted a new organizational goal to better reflect our commitment to diversity and inclusion. You’ll hear more details in the coming weeks.
  • Many senior leaders are participating in an “inclusion challenge” this month. Every workday, these leaders are participating in activities, including TED Talks, video clips, news articles and movies on diversity topics. These include deconstructing racism, advancing inclusion for all marginalized populations and understanding generational differences in health care and employment. Our goal is to be better informed to lead culture change within our organization. In January, we will invite our workforce to participate in this challenge.
  • Each of us will have the opportunity to participate in education that explains unconscious bias and microaggressions and how they affect diverse populations. We’ll talk about our responsibility to intervene when we witness these behaviors and how to do that.
  • To establish greater accountability for respect and inclusion, Penn State Health recently enacted a  zero tolerance policy for bias or discrimination from any employee who willfully engages in conduct motivated by hostility or hatred toward a person because of any aspect of their diversity. Penn State also has a discrimination policy, and you can find it here.
  • Likewise, we are expanding our policy that states we do not tolerate bias against our workforce and learners from patients, their families and visitors. We are also creating resources that outline our expectations for patients and visitors, while helping our employees and learners to respond if this bias does take place.
  • For our learners, we are incorporating greater diversity into the curriculum, including adding anti-racism, anti-bias and social determinants of health, and we are improving the clinical experiences of our diverse learners through an ally support program.

The town halls were a starting point in understanding opportunities to improve the experiences of our colleagues, learners, patients and community. We invite you to join the conversation at the Sept. 30 and future town halls.

Our commitment to you is to keep moving forward in this journey for all whose lives we touch – and to keep you informed as we do.

Steve Massini                                          Dr. Kevin Black
CEO                                                           Interim Dean
Penn State Health                                  College of Medicine

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