The Importance of Diversity in Healthcare

by Liyya Hassanali

26Health was founded on the concept of diversity in healthcare and being a trusted resource for the trans population in Orlando. Today, the clinic provides comprehensive health and wellness services for that community and beyond to welcome anyone needing healthcare services in the Orlando area.

Clinic co-founder Dr. David Baker-Hargrove (identified by ve/ver/vers) explains that historical mistrust of the medical establishment is entrenched in minority communities. This goes well beyond the LGBTQ+ community, and it has devastating consequences.

“The COVID-19 pandemic really shined a light on the inequities of our medical care system, the lack of communication and awareness within minority communities, and the deep-seated mistrust of certain populations with both the government and medical providers. One of the things that we are trying to do is to create a safe space for minority communities of all kinds so individuals can receive the care they need, when they need it.”

To create that safe space, 26Health is dedicated to promoting diversity in healthcare within the organization. These initiatives include maintaining a diverse staff, welcoming diverse populations of patients, and undergoing routine cultural competence training.

Staff Diversity

“Indeed.com defines workplace diversity as referring to the individual characteristics employees have that make them unique. Typically, that means gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, but it can also be more granular with respect to communication and work styles, interests, life experiences, etc.,” Dr. David explained.

“We believe at 26Health that patients want to see themselves reflected in some way by our staff, whether it be by age, gender, race, or as a member of the LGBTQ community. We support that ideology by employing a representative staff. Over 50% of our staff identify as female. All working generations are represented. Black people work at every level within the organization to include all levels of leadership and providers. Every department speaks Spanish fluently. 37% of our staff identify as LGBTQ.”

Representation and Cultural Competency Training Help Staff Connect with Patients

Representation isn’t the only way 26Health sets itself apart. Meeting patients where they are and delivering care with compassion and understanding is also part of the clinic’s care philosophy.

“Delivering care with compassion and understanding is something that we take absolutely seriously. How we address patients, talk to them, care for them, and listen to them is how we set ourselves apart. In 1999, the Surgeon General released the first ever report on mental health in the US. There was a strong emphasis on the influence of culture on mental health, and the importance of ‘cultural match’ in providing services.”

“We believe that cultural match is important and has a direct link to patient’s choosing to receive care at 26Health as opposed to a less diverse clinic.”

Cultural competence training is another way 26Health helps ensure their patients feel comfortable visiting the clinic.

In Cultural Competence and Ethnic Diversity in Healthcare, researchers defined cultural competence as “the ability to collaborate effectively with individuals from different cultures.” They went on to explain that “such competence improves healthcare experiences and outcomes. Measures to improve cultural competence and ethnic diversity will help alleviate healthcare disparities and then improve health care outcomes in these patient populations.”

26Health’s cultural competence training begins with new hire orientation. This occurs four or five times a year with topics rotating and changing as needed.

“37% of our patient population identifies as transgender/nonbinary, so we provide transhealth specific training at new hire orientation. This is followed up with a refresher each year, which also includes providing services to the LGBT. Training topics throughout the annual rotation also include more general sensitivity training on how to respectfully interact with patients of varying diverse representations, eliminating assumptions, and experiential training about how it ‘feels’ for a patient to receive services at 26Health. This year, we are adding Implicit Bias Training. Once a month, each staff person attends a small group training of Culture Club/Book Club. Here we discuss and outline how to espouse and live the culture of 26Health.”

Care for Every Stage, Age, and Orientation

What does diversity mean at 26Health? It means diverse providers delivering care for diverse populations with compassion and understanding. It also means developing cultural competency to connect with patients and improve health outcomes. The commitment to diversity is deep at 26Health, going beyond labels and staffing ratios to be a defining part of the culture of the clinic so that people from all walks of life and all orientations know they have a safe space to receive health care in Orlando. 

“Our patients are Caucasian, Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and Asian. We serve not only the LGBTQ, but non-LGBTQ patients as well. We serve patients who live below the poverty level and struggle with basic needs of living alongside patients who are secure financially. Our patient ages span from youth to senior. Maybe the simplest way to put it is that we treat every stage, every age, every orientation,” said Dr. David.

26Health’s services cover men’s health, women’s health, transgender health, pediatric care, chronic health conditions, telehealth, and more.