For The People
Story By: Joe Dyton
Jose Sanchez and Regina Montoya discuss how their respective hospitals are serving their communities and finding solutions to place more Latinos in hospital leadership positions.
When the Norwegian American Hospital in Chicago reached out to CEO Jose Sanchez to help turn the place around in 2010, he gladly accepted the challenge.
The hospital was facing bankruptcy and was under surveillance due to safety issues for seven years. Sanchez was in the middle of a successful run in leadership positions at a number of New York-based hospitals, but when Norwegian American Hospital asked for his help, he answered the call. After several interviews, the hospital’s board of directors told him that he’d been selected as their next CEO.
After Sanchez accepted the position, he came in with a vision of how to reverse the hospital’s fortunes. That vision began with ensuring the hospital could support itself with the income it was bringing in. It also put a greater focus on improving the hospital’s quality, as well as its recruiting and retention efforts of the medical staff.
He also wanted the hospital to participate in the community and act as a true community organization, using technology not only to manage the organization, but as a tool to increase and improve the hospital’s overall quality.
Seven years later, it appears Sanchez’s vision was just what the doctor ordered. The organization has escaped the clutches of bankruptcy; it offers dental screenings for children in the community; and has its own recommended training program to teach the next generation of physicians who want to serve communities like the one Norwegian American does.
The hospital also improved its quality indicators so much that the Chicago Tribune featured the Norwegian American Hospital as having the lowest infection rate in Illinois.
“That brings us a lot of pride because we are competing with institutions that are powerful, influential and have a lot of financial resources that we do not,” Sanchez said.
Norwegian American puts a big focus on the community through education, invention and an overall expansion of health services. It also has a care plan focused on immunizations for children. The hospital’s immunization efforts received an award from the American Hospital Association.
“In terms of financial stability, quality, our prices and our presence in the community, this hospital is among the best,” Sanchez said. “That distinguishes us from the other organizations or the safety net they have around the inner city of Chicago.”
Sanchez is not out to merely improve hospitals, however. He also has noticed the lack of Latino professionals in the health industry. As the only Latino hospital CEO in Illinois, he wants to do something about it.
According to Sanchez, the issue stems from a shortage of exposure to the health care administration industry as a career path for young Latino students. He believes students should have the options presented to them much earlier in their academic career — even as early as high school. Sanchez also feels there could be more mentors and role models who are visible in the industry to promote the interests of Latinos in health care — himself included.
“Individuals like myself and others who are in leadership positions have to take responsibility to promote and also create access to Latinos to enter into the field,” he said. “It’s our role to mentor and be supportive. We also need to influence our board to ensure that there are Latinos on the board of directors (who can) reflect the patient population we’re treating today.”
Sanchez and Norwegian American are doing their part. The hospital has a relationship with a few neighboring high schools where they are developing a science curriculum. The hospital also has created field opportunities where students can spend time there; they can get jobs during the summer and are paired with professionals working in the specialty they have expressed an interest in.
Between pulling a hospital from the brink of bankruptcy and helping get more Latino students involved in the health care industry is a strong legacy for Sanchez, but he does not want to stop there. He is determined to make sure Norwegian American Hospital continues to be the top safety-net hospital in Illinois. He also wants to remain a positive example for Latino professionals in the industry.
“I have taken this role as a Latino CEO seriously because I don’t want to leave room for anyone to worry about a Latino being CEO of a hospital,” Sanchez said. “I want to celebrate who we are, what we do and that Latinos are successful.”
The Texas Health Resources Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas is another organization making positive strides toward bringing more Latinos into the health care industry.
The hospital, currently celebrating 50 years of service, provides numerous services to the underserved parts of the community. It’s located near the Vickery Meadow community, which houses a large immigrant population with a significant uninsured rate. The hospital has made an effort to take its services out to the communities like Vickery Meadow and support nonprofit organizations that are involved with the health care system.
“I think the hospital in north Texas deals with an even bigger responsibility to be part of the community and give back,” said Regina Montoya, a member of the hospital board of directors. “THR Presbyterian Dallas feels and does that. I think that’s one of the things that drew me to serving on this board; because of the work it does.”
Montoya’s outreach efforts extend beyond her board seat at the hospital. She also chairs Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ task force on poverty. The organization’s first meeting was held at the hospital, where community members were welcome to attend and discuss the poverty issue.
“I think that’s part of what is so impressive about this kind of work, because the work with a number of different organizations provides some of that outreach,” Montoya said. “(The hospital) will do it through the mayor’s task force on poverty; specific programs that are working to provide accessible quality care to people as well.”
The hospital’s understanding of its role in the community is a big reason why Montoya is proud to serve on its board. With so many people living in poverty, it’s crucial that the hospital provide them with necessary medical care, including an education. Many people in the community the hospital serves live in what Montoya describes as “food deserts.” These are areas where there aren’t many grocery stores, forcing people to turn to unhealthy fast food restaurants for food. A steady diet of unhealthy food can lead to diseases like diabetes.
“You see that in our community, with people overindexing on diabetes, that you might be able to prevent it if you had access to healthcare,” she said, “... to be able to learn and be educated about the importance of a good diet and exercise.”
One solution to this issue would be to increase the Latino presence on the hospital’s board. Montoya says taking steps like these would help the organization ensure it could provide culturally relevant types of healthcare to people.
“I think it’s important that we do that because in addition to providing mentorship to those that follow, I think we should draw on the diverse experiences of our entire community for something as important as healthcare delivery,” she said.