Hackensack Meridian Health Honors the Life & Legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 18, 2021

New Jersey’s Largest Health Network Hosts Virtual Symposium to Inspire Action and Change, Announce Diversity and Inclusion Strategies for 2021; Part of Year-Round Effort to Close Disparities and Inequality in Health Care

Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey’s largest and most integrated health network, today hosted a virtual symposium for its leaders and team members to honor the life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The symposium announced strategies that will empower Hackensack Meridian Health‘s leaders through its diversity and inclusion to foster and promote a diverse and inclusive environment that delivers culturally competent, patient-centered care by:

  • Fostering an inclusive environment that embraces different perspectives and that values the contributions of each individual
  • Promoting diversity at every level throughout the network
  • Employing and developing the finest talent from all groups within New Jersey’s vibrant communities
  • Providing outstanding and award-winning health care services.

“Our state and nation have a lot of work to do to address the disparities that are evident in many spheres of life, including health care,” said Robert C. Garrett, FACHE, chief executive officer, Hackensack Meridian Health. “This is a year-round effort and working together, we will drive positive change and provide more opportunities for our diverse communities.”

Hackensack Meridian Health is committed to narrowing the gap in racial disparities that exist throughout the U.S.: Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women; African Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to die prematurely from heart disease; and they are three times more likely to contract COVID-19 and twice as likely to die from the virus.

“All of us must come together and change this disturbing narrative,” said Garrett. “It’s a reflection of broader inequalities in society and we all must do our part to make sure everyone has a fair shot.”

The network has launched major initiatives to address these disparities including:

  • Aggressively recruiting minorities in COVID vaccine trials so that science could have a complete picture of how the vaccine affects all people.
  • Partnering with Horizon BCBS to target underserved areas and zip codes and address so many factors that contribute to illness and health – access to healthy food and transportation as well as
  • access to quality health care.
  • Ensuring that students at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine reflect the communities they will ultimately serve. One in four students is Black or Hispanic. Additionally, a core part of the curriculum includes pairing students with patients in underserved communities, so they understand all factors that contribute to health and illness – including housing, diet, transportation and economic issues.
  • A blue-ribbon panel to improve maternal outcomes with a particular focus on women of color.
  • Investing in research as a member of the NCI-Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center to eliminate disparities in outcomes.
  • Launching training for all clinical teams to address implicit bias in care delivery.

Today’s symposium also recognized the unprecedented contributions of Wayne Boatwright, Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion for Hackensack Meridian Health. Mr. Boatwright, who is retiring in February after 15 years of distinguished service with the organization, received the Trailblazer Award from Robert C. Garrett. The Trailblazer Award is one of Hackensack Meridian Health‘s highest honors and given annually to team members that improve the organization and society for the better, and advance Dr. King’s legacy.

“Because of Wayne’s leadership, Hackensack Meridian Health is a more compassionate and inclusive network, and we will continue to value diversity and inclusion in everything we do,” said Garrett.

Over the years, Boatwright has helped establish and expand the diversity and inclusion program at Hackensack Meridian Health. He also helped create the network’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Day celebration, led the development of a three-year strategic diversity plan, and helped establish the “Listening to Understand” campaign to encourage conversations around diversity and inclusion. Under Boatwright’s leadership, nine hospitals across the network achieved the Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) designation last year. In addition, Boatwright helped establish six Team Member Resources Groups within the organization that focus on key communities including women, multicultural, veterans, young professionals and the LGBTQ community.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to work at Hackensack Meridian Health to help advance diversity and inclusion and help increase equal access to health care for diverse communities throughout the Garden State,” said Wayne Boatwright. “In 2021 and beyond, we will continue to advance Dr. King’s legacy and strive to end injustice and inequality once and for all.”

Mr. Garrett was also honored. He was presented with the Hackensack Meridian Health‘s 2021 MLK Leadership Impact Award.

Hackensack Meridian Health‘s Diversity and Inclusion Efforts in 2020-21:

  • Support of the New Jersey CEO Council. This coalition of CEOs, organized by Governor Phil Murphy, has pledged to hire or train more than 30,000 residents by 2030 and spend an additional $250 million on procurement with state-based, diverse companies by 2025, and is challenging our peers in the business community to produce an additional 40,000 jobs and $250 million in local purchasing. Both efforts will focus on underrepresented communities of color and other underserved communities.
  • Nine of our health network’s hospitals participated in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation 2020 Healthcare Equality Index, the national LGBTQ benchmarking tool that evaluates healthcare facilities’ policies and practices related to the equity and inclusion of their LGBTQ patients, visitors and employees. Eight of our network’s hospitals received the HEI Leader designation with a score of 100 points, and one network hospital received HEI Top Performer designation with a score of 95 points. The goal is to mandate all 17 network hospitals to participate and achieve the HEI designation and so we have created an improvement plan to more effectively manage the HEI survey process.
  • The creation of permanent focus groups to address issues of race and ethnicity in our workplace.
  • The launching of our network’s Listening To Understand (LTU) Campaign intended to help us hear from our team members directly and candidly about how the country’s recent tragic events around police brutality, protest and social unrest are affecting them and ultimately to determine how Hackensack Meridian Health addresses these concerns within the organization and community at large.
  • Our Multi-Culture Team Member Resource Group relaunched network-wide on Multicultural Day, October 18, 2020. The group hosts virtual meetings, creates initiatives and videos recognizing and celebrating all cultures across our network.
  • The Women in Leadership Team continues its mentoring program with a 106% increase in participation from 2018. The virtual graduation this past September recognized 55 mentees and mentors.
  • The appointment of Nicole Harris-Hollingsworth, EDD, MCHES, vice president, Social Determinants of Health at Hackensack Meridian Health. Ms. Harris-Hollingsworth is responsible for the building and scaling of solutions to address social determinants and social health disparities while also creating localized community-based solutions for specific populations.
  • Our Diversity and Inclusion team also restructured the network Cultural Recognitions to a virtual format, aligning with our priorities relating to

COVID-19. Specifically, these recognitions have included the creation of individual courses focused on diverse communities and the impact of the pandemic. Additionally, D&I collaborated with Corporate Communications to produce a video submission for Hackensack Meridian Health‘s participation in NJ’s virtual Pride Parade.