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Diversity and inclusion efforts must ‘start at the top’


Juan Mejia, COO of NewYork-Presbyterian’s Lower Manhattan Hospital, talks about fostering belonging, building diversity in the leadership ranks, and planning for the future.

Even in New York City, Juan Mejia says diversity and inclusion can’t be taken for granted.

Juan Mejia, senior vice president and chief operating officer at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital, says top leaders must drive diversity efforts. (Photo: NewYork-Presbyterian)

Juan Mejia, senior vice president and chief operating officer at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital, says top leaders must drive diversity efforts. (Photo: NewYork-Presbyterian)

Mejia is the senior vice president and chief operating officer of NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital. He says the hospital, and the NewYork-Presbyterian system as a whole, stresses the value of diversity and inclusion in the workforce. Mejia says the goal is to ensure staff feel valued and patients feel respected.

The top leadership of a hospital or health system must be driving efforts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion, Mejia says.

“The topic of diversity and inclusion and belonging has to start on top,” Mejia says. “I would say at NewYork-Presbyterian, this is very important to our board of trustees and our CEO. And it's something that comes up in a lot of our leadership meetings. And I would say it has to start at the top. And from there, that's where you can drive the culture down through the rest of the organization.”

In a recent interview with Chief Healthcare Executive®, Mejia talks about the steps fostering diversity and inclusion across the organization, including the leadership ranks. He also talks about leading the system’s LGBTQ+ task force, getting through the COVID-19 pandemic, and planning for the future.

(See part of our conversation with Juan Mejia in this video. The story continues below.)

Focus on ‘belonging’

Mejia says the hospital, and NewYork-Presbyterian, places a lot of emphasis on the concept of “belonging.”

“We use the term belonging a lot,” Mejia says. “At NewYork-Presbyterian, belonging is ensuring that our employees feel like they belong at the table and ensuring that they feel comfortable in the environment that they work in, regardless of which department they're at, regardless of the level of the employees, that everyone feels that they belong.”

Hospitals also need to embed the concepts diversity, equity and belonging as part of their organization’s mission, he says.

“It has to be part of the organization's true core values and ensuring that as we think about the values of an organization, that diversity and inclusion is not just something that you do, or that you do a few initiatives on a few across the year, but it's really something that is part of the core values of any organization,” Mejia says.

NewYork-Presbyterian has a credo that is designed to capture the organization’s commitment to inclusion. The credo says, in part, “Every person and every role counts. We will treat everyone as a valued human being, considering everyone’s feelings, needs, ideas and preferences.”

While it’s important for hospitals to develop a diverse workforce, Mejia also says it’s critical to ensure members of minority groups gain opportunities to advance to leadership roles.

“It's very important to have opportunities for individuals of all backgrounds to be able to rise in an organization,” Mejia says.

“It's something that at our leadership meetings, we talk about a lot,” Mejia says. “And we talk about different programs for staff … for young professionals to be able to grow within the organization with the goal of continuing to evolve and continuing to have a diverse leadership team across the organization.”

The LGBTQ task force

Hospitals must foster an environment where employees feel like they can have “safe spaces” to talk about their concerns and create dialogue on issues such as LGBTQ+ topics, women’s health and other areas, Mejia says. He adds it’s important to have strong talent development teams to educate staff about such topics.

Mejia leads the NewYork-Presbyterian LGBTQ Task Force, which reviews best practices in serving patients and employees across the system. The task force includes members from human resources, operations, talent development, patient services and other departments.

The task force has helped develop education modules to train staff in caring for LGBTQ patients. Some LGBTQ+ patients have avoided going to doctors or hospitals due to mistreatment or bias they have endured in the past.

“I think with all of our patients, our goal is to always create a safe environment where patients feel comfortable and safe within our spaces, whether it's an outpatient practice, in our emergency room, or for patients coming in for any inpatient admission,” Mejia says.

He stresses the importance of educating staff, even in a setting as diverse as New York.

“It's not easier because we're in New York City,” he says. “But if anything, it's important that we're always training our staff on the importance of these topics.”

Getting into the community

Just after COVID-19 began spreading in America, New York City quickly became ground zero of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than three years later, Mejia says he’s grateful that the pandemic has moved into a more “stable” phase.

“We are definitely at a point where we are at a more stable place, really focusing and getting back to our strategic planning, and really thinking about caring for the community here in lower Manhattan,” Mejia says.

“I will say it's a relief, because you know, we're now able to focus on the work that we should be focusing on,” he adds. “Your top priority is always focusing on the high quality of our care of our patients.”

The hospital is focused on the well-being of the workforce, including reminding staff members that employee assistance is available, he says.

“A big focus of ours now is focusing on our people, focusing on our amazing staff and on the retention of our staff,” Mejia says.

Like most hospitals, Lower Manhattan Hospital experienced a good amount of turnover in the past few years. Mejia says the turnover has eased and the hospital has filled a good number of vacancies.

Now, Mejia is relishing the chance to get into the lower Manhattan community more regularly, something that obviously wasn’t feasible during the height of the pandemic.

“These are events where we're able to make human connections and really talk about priorities outside of the hospital, or partner with local leaders,” he continues. “And it helps not just to foster relationships, but to really build the bigger community that we have here in lower Manhattan. So I'm really excited to continue to get out in the community.”

(Editor's note: Juan Mejia has recently moved into a new role since he spoke with Chief Healthcare Executive. He is now president of NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital.)

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