Over 40 students, medical school faculty and community leaders gathered for a town hall on diversity, inclusion and social justice in health care on Monday.
The town hall, held at the Yale Child Study Center, served as the community’s introduction to Darin Latimore, the deputy dean for diversity and inclusion at the Yale School of Medicine, and Lisette Martinez, the chief diversity officer of the Yale New Haven Health System. Hosted by the U.S. Health Justice Collaborative, a network of students, medical residents and New Haven community members dedicated to addressing issues of domestic health justice, the event drew a diverse audience, ranging from undergraduates and community activists to School of Medicine administrators and Yale New Haven Hospital staff members.
“I really wanted to facilitate a community dialogue that would help inform Darin and Lisette about what’s going on here so they can be allies and effect the change they’ve been hired to perform,” said Robert Rock MED ’18, one of the event organizers. “But it was also about introducing the community to two amazing people with lots of great ideas and energy and lowering the activation energy for them to reach out and share ideas.”
Rock and his co-organizer Kayla Ringelheim SOM ’18 began the town hall by inviting audience members to share their reasons for attending. They then introduced Latimore and Martinez, who delineated what they hoped to accomplish as the inaugural appointees to their positions.
Latimore outlined preliminary strategies for achieving his three main goals: diversity, equity and inclusion. He noted that although his original job description was centered around faculty diversity, he also hoped to bring students and the local community into the conversation. Martinez said that she wants to not only target diversity in the Yale New Haven Hospital workforce, but also create a new way of thinking that addresses issues of accountability, transparency and patient care.
“YNHH has always focused on diversity in the workforce, but now we want to make a larger strategy to focus on marketing in the community and patient experience,” said Martinez, who has held her position since last June. “Our main goal is for all of our patients, employees and physicians to feel comfortable about sharing their similarities and differences with each other.”
Latimore and Martinez also fielded questions from the audience during a question-and-answer session that served as an informal brainstorming session for future efforts. The administrators and attendees present discussed topics that included creating a more welcoming environment at Yale New Haven Hospital, recruiting minority students into health care professions and improving town-gown relations.
Audience members interviewed all noted that the town hall addressed important and often unexpected issues. Shivani Bhatt GRD ’21, a member of the USHJ Collaborative, said she was happy to hear that Latimore’s vision for his role extended beyond faculty diversity initiatives.
Carlah Esdaile-Bragg, a New Haven resident who works at the Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center, said she attended the event because of her personal interests in health justice. Hearing that the University and hospital had a concrete plan to train staff in unconscious biases and stereotypes was very promising, she added.
Stephen Huot, the School of Medicine’s associate dean for graduate medical education, was one of several administrators who participated in the discussion. Huot said that he attended in hopes of learning how to improve a community that has been his home for over 30 years, as well as in his leadership role at the medical school.
“We’re interested in engaging with a larger circle of people because it will likely lead to more success than doing something on your own,” Huot said. “The community members added a great deal to the conversation today — it’s very important to broaden our own thinking about what it means for us to be an entity in the city of New Haven.”
Ringelheim said that although there were not as many student attendees as she had hoped, she was delighted to see a high turnout from the community. She added that she was pleased to help create a space in which community members felt welcome, especially because Latimore and Martinez cited community engagement as a high priority for their roles.
“Since students are the ones who started the collaborative, we think about how we can effect change in our circles of influence,” Rock said. “How do we hold our institution accountable for promoting health justice in the immediate environment and how do we ensure we are being trained to the best of our abilities to be advocates for health justice in our future careers?”
Martinez told the News that she applied to be chief diversity officer because she could tell that Yale New Haven Health was truly committed to promoting diversity and inclusion throughout the entire health system.
Similarly, Latimore noted that the University has both “a lot of positive energy” and the necessary resources to build relationships with the community and disseminate efforts of diversity and inclusion throughout the medical school.
“For issues of diversity and inclusion, we tend not to be the ones with the levers,” said Latimore, who joined the School of Medicine in January. “We tend to do our best work with our networking, education and influence.”
Latimore and Martinez are in the process of assembling diversity committees, which will be composed of current employees and faculty who will provide administrators with support and expert opinions. The diversity officers are also in the midst of hiring staff members who will serve as managers, analysts and team coordinators for diversity and inclusion initiatives.