'It was the right thing to do': Why 1 health system is matching its board demographics to its service area

Marlton, N.J.-based Virtua Health is integrating more diversity into its core leadership — beginning with the board of trustees. 

The health system instituted bylaws to ensure its board reflects the diversity of its service area, and Dennis Pullin, president and CEO of Virtua Health, said that's been easier than one might think. 

"I think there's a misnomer out there that there aren't many diverse candidates," Mr. Pullin told Becker's. "They're out there. You just have to be willing to look." 

Efforts to diversify the board were already underway when Mr. Pullin joined Virtua in 2017. The board had established a nominating committee to address diversity and inclusion issues, which recommended leadership match the patient population. 

Virtua Health is situated near three major cities — Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C. — so its patients come from a wide variety of backgrounds. A diverse board can better represent their interests, according to Stacy Robinson, a board member and chair of the finance committee. 

For example, in 2021, Ms. Robinson approached the board about expanding vaccine access in a community she belongs to. She knew the community was skeptical of the government and medical entities but trusted their church. By hosting a vaccine clinic at the church, Virtua Health was able to give about 3,000 people their first COVID-19 shot. 

"[Virtua] gave them an opportunity to come to their church on-site and register for the vaccine," Tabernacle Baptist Pastor Cory Jones told the Burlington County Times. "That was big. It made the vaccine accessible." 

If these community members did not have a seat at the table through Ms. Robinson, their voices may have gone unheard.

That's why DEI is more than just a quota for Virtua Health, leaders said. It's a strategic imperative that helps improve breadth and quality of care. Now, one-third of the board is represented by women and people of color — and finding candidates qualified to represent their communities and serve on the board was "pretty easy," Mr. Pullin said. 

When the demographics began to shift, it was important not to make longstanding board members feel that they were missing the mark, according to Mr. Pullin. He said the initiative was well-received across the organization. 

"More than anything, it's the right thing to do," Mr. Pullin said. "It challenges us, the leadership team [and] the board, to ensure we provide the right level of care [and] the right competencies around disenfranchised communities when dealing with certain groups of individuals that might not find it easy to find the kind of care they need to receive.

"DEI is about being accountable to the people we are supposed to be accountable to." 

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