Learning and Growing
Written by Peg Moline
There is no question the world of health care, along with our entire world view, has been changing rapidly. During the past 20 months, more has been learned about inequities in health care, social justice, diversity and inclusion. In mid-2020, as challenging and complex a task as it might be, Torrance Memorial committed to initiating action, remaining compassionate and staying relevant in our ever-changing community.
The Torrance Memorial Committee for the Advancement of Respect, Equity and Justice— or CARE + Justice committee—first met in July 2020, a few months after COVID-19 became a global crisis and not long after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.
“We had civil unrest and a pandemic—both critically important issues to address,” says Debby Kelley, Torrance Memorial vice president and co-chair of the CARE + Justice committee. “This was our way of starting the conversations, initiating action and including our staff who wanted to be more involved. The committee was well-designed and formed to be inclusive. It has diverse members including physicians, staff and members of management. We are fortunate to have such interest and collaboration across the Torrance Memorial health system,” Kelley emphasizes.
Nicole Alexander-Spencer, MD, a co-chair of CARE + Justice, says, “One of our goals is to bring attention to racism that still exists and to increase awareness, diversity and inclusion, and to practice cultural humility at Torrance Memorial. Our first task was to create a mission statement: Torrance Memorial celebrates the richness of human diversity in an inclusive environment dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in patient care. We are committed to a culture of respect, equity and justice for all.”
The committee has been divided into several subcommittees to work on specific topics. The workforce and education subcommittee led a major initiative to provide all Torrance Memorial employees training in unconscious bias. The course was in partnership with Cedars-Sinai and designed to provide a positive learning experience, educate, and encourage conversations on bias, identity, diversity, equal opportunities and cultural humility.
The training helped employees understand and become aware of behaviors like microaggressions and micro-inequities and how to identify and change these behaviors. The unconscious bias education is also available for physicians, along with a collection of resource materials located on the first floor of the West Tower in the medical library.
Elaine McRae, director of Torrance Memorial University, explains, “We have also started an LGBTQ+ support group and diversity conversations via Zoom, including expert panelists to answer our questions. The discussions have been earnest, heartwarming and helpful. We plan to continue these conversations.”
Another subcommittee led by DJ Singh, MD, Jason Alvarado, MD, and Lana Le Tai, senior clinical and quality analyst, addresses both parities of care and our community. This group works collaboratively with our existing community benefits work, addressing social determinants of health and community needs. (See community programs details, next page.)
These subcommittees work closely with the human resources department and have collaborated to institute an easily accessible hotline to report discriminatory behavior by calling 855-226-5554 or submitting a form at tmmc.ethicspoint.com.
“It has been eye-opening,” says Julie Sim, MD. “Before 2020, I had a vague sense of what health equity and unconscious bias meant. I am proud of the steps we have taken at the breast center toward educating ourselves and analyzing our breast cancer health equity data. Being part of the parity of care and community outreach team in CARE + Justice has been empowering.”
Moving to a better balance
“I was asked to join the committee from the beginning,” says Mary Ford, marketing and communications coordinator. “As a Black woman, initially I thought they extended the invitation because of the color of my skin. After serving on the committee for the past year and a half, I realize what I have contributed—my voice and opinions—has elevated the richness and cultural diversity at Torrance Memorial. It’s not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction.”
“I hope we are doing meaningful work and moving the needle,” asserts Dr. Alexander-Spencer. “We know we want to see change, and it makes for a better patient care culture. It takes time to do this work, and working alongside a diverse culture of staff and administration reflecting our community is the path forward. Torrance Memorial already has a great culture, and I know we can keep growing and progressing in the direction of respect, equity and justice.”
Torrance Memorial’s work to promote equity and inclusion reaches even beyond the committee and expands into the community.
The Supported Employment program partners with Goodwill Industries and helps forge a pathway into the workforce for people with disabilities. Johanna Johnson-Gilman, Torrance Memorial’s director of nutrition and food services, says the partnership has helped train valuable employees for Torrance Memorial.
Torrance Memorial partners with the New Challenge Ministries to provide a food redistribution program and collection drives for other necessities. In January, Torrance Memorial employees participated in a food drive honoring the legacy of the late Martin Luther King Jr. The donations benefited the Fresh Rescue Food Bank, the largest food bank in the South Bay.
The hospital also participates in two cohorts to study what makes for a positive birth experience.
The SACRED (Safety, Autonomy, Communications, Racism, Empathy and Dignity) Birth and Cherished Futures — promise to improve the birth experience, specifically for Black women and their babies.
A Community Health Worker (CHW) grant position in our Carson medical building was created in partnership with Providence and Charles Drew University and is staffed by an individual who has a close understanding of the community being served. In this position, we help people solve issues such as accessing physicians, government services and transportation resources by serving as a patient liaison to provide assistance and improve care. “The power of a CHW is to bridge the gaps between health care and the community member,” says Claire Coignard, Torrance Memorial’s director of health education and community benefits. “The better a healthcare system can address a patient’s social determinants of health, the better it can achieve health equity for the community members it serves.