HAP Blog

Advancing a Culture of Mutual Respect: a critical element for a healing environment

October 31, 2016

As President and CEO of Main Line Health, I am always looking to our staff to offer me real time insight into how we can continually improve on our efforts to create an inclusive and respectful environment for our patients and colleagues. Recently, I received the following email from a team member:

“With the recent violence across our country and around the globe and with the ongoing presidential campaigns, emotions can become very heated. I have observed this among staff and have also overheard conversations in the waiting area among patients. What is the best way to handle this so that hard feelings aren't created among co-workers and also to minimize what patients are subjected to hearing from other patients while waiting for appointments?”

There is no question that, for the past several months, recent national tragedies and contentious political discussions have dominated the news. These headlines have resulted in a national dialogue with local repercussions and, as representatives of the Pennsylvania hospital community, we may find ourselves in conversations with friends, family, and even co-workers that quickly become polarizing. In some instances, even conversations on social media outlets can become toxic, and disrespectful comments by individuals on these channels—even outside of work—are considered a reflection of a person’s commitment to providing respectful care to all patients.

In health care, we are distinctively positioned during this time of intense public discourse. Our compassionate, life-saving work transcends political beliefs, violence, and the news of the day for the patients who trust us with their health and healing. For the breast cancer survivor arriving for her routine mammogram, her most pressing thought is, “Will the images show I am still cancer free?” For the parent rushing to the Emergency Department at two in the morning with a one-year-old with labored breathing and a fever, the only thought on their mind is, “What is wrong with my baby?” For the senior couple leaving the cardiologist’s office, the question they are anxiously weighing may be, “How will we be able to afford yet another prescription?” Every member of the health care team plays a key role in delivering compassion and expertise to appropriately address these fears.

At Main Line Health, we have worked to foster a culture of mutual respect through a Diversity, Respect, and Inclusion (DR&I) initiative that we launched during January of 2013. The goal of our DR&I work is to create awareness for our physicians and employees through learning experiences on the significance of unconscious bias and how this bias could unintentionally create barriers to equitable care for all patients as well as to an inclusive work environment.

We also are putting our discussions into practice—DR&I is part of Main Line Health’s values. In our new Main Line Health Strategic Plan for 2016–2020, we have committed to advance a culture of mutual respect as well as to seek, identify, and ameliorate any disparities in care for the communities we serve by enhancing access and fostering health literacy.

Achieving a culture of respect requires thoughtful participation from every one of us to eradicate insensitive or inappropriate language, gestures, or actions. The responsibility of saving lives means that, just as each of us is expected to speak up for safety, we must hold each other accountable and speak up for respect.

While we can’t control the external forces beyond the walls of our hospitals, each of us in Pennsylvania’s health care community has the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the thousands of patients who rely on us daily to provide equitable and life-saving care, as well as in the lives of our co-workers and industry peers who have dedicated themselves to serving others. To these individuals, we should remain a steady beacon of strength, kindness, and hope.

Now more than ever in our nation’s history, we must continue to stay focused on helping to improve the health of the communities we serve and on demonstrating respect in all our interactions with each other and our patients. Please join me in keeping victims of violence, as well as individuals who face unjust treatment across our country and around the globe, in our thoughts and prayers.

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