As Black History Month comes to a close, we wanted to take an opportunity to partner with the Center for Equity of Care and sit down with three of our team members to reflect on the impact our African American/Caribbean Bridges BERGs (Business Employee Resource Group) has made on them, throughout their career journey at Northwell. Chid Iloabachie, MD, associate chairperson, Emergency Medicine at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream (LIJVS); Olushola Latus-Olaifa, program manager for Community and Population Health; and Myia Williams, PhD, research industrial and organizational psychologist, shared their experience and feelings on what the African American/Caribbean Bridges BERGs and Black History Month means to them.
The African American and Caribbean Bridges BERG’s theme for Black History Month this year was “Reigniting the Human Connection: The pathway to community health equity.” What does that theme mean to you?
Olushola: I believe this theme directly relates to the work being done in the Community and Population Health division and brings me back to something we learned during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic: that building, expanding, and maintaining our relationships as a health system (and a team) with community leaders in our region, directly impacts our ability to impact the areas we serve. “Reigniting the human connection” for our team has been establishing the Long Island Health Equity Task Force to collaborate with more than 100 diverse community and faith-based leaders, along with county and state representation to ensure equitable vaccine distribution, while creating a pathway to community health equity.
Dr. Iloabachie: Our relationship with one another is the most important driver of any equitable healthcare system. We should all be invested in the health of our community. This can look like a lot of things; from running a health system as large as Northwell, or simply picking up a piece of litter so that we can live in a cleaner environment. I invite anyone reading this to take time today to be inspired to take action that will positively impact the health of everyone around us.
Dr. Williams: To me, this theme means representation. In May of 2020, myself and Dr. Alyson Myers launched COVID-19 Conversations, a one-hour informational Facebook Live/Zoom program to provide Black and Brown communities with up-to-date information on COVID-19 and access to resources. Through this program we were able to deliver interactive discussions on topics ranging from health education on COVID-19 and mental health, to resources for unmet social needs. Access to culturally relevant community education resources and outreach is important to achieving community health equity.
Why do you think it is so important for Northwell to have Bridges BERGs, like the African American and Caribbean Bridges BERG?
Olushola: The African American and Caribbean BERG, as well as all our BERG’s, are essential to such a large organization like Northwell. Having a sense of community and commonality are one of the many reasons Northwell is a Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For®. Through networking and the events hosted by the African American and Caribbean BERG, we are exposed to more opportunities within the system and even more chances to collaborate on similar goals and ideals.
Dr. Iloabachie: The African American and Caribbean Bridges BERGs fill me with hope. As a clinician, I spend most of my efforts stabilizing medical conditions and I’m seldom left with enough time to address their root causes. The African American and Caribbean BERGs create a space for us to do just that, collaborating with like-minded colleagues from every discipline and department at Northwell. It is said that there is strength in numbers; I see the truth of that adage whenever I consider the phenomenal work of the BERGs and the amazing Northwell employees that comprise them.
Dr. Williams: The BERGs provide employees with shared interests and backgrounds, as well as an opportunity to have their voice heard in a safe space, and opportunities for professional development. Northwell’s Bridges BERGS help with the diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA) strategy to foster an inclusive workplace, enhance employee experience, increase employee engagement, and promote cultural awareness – all of which contribute to Northwell Health being one of the top companies in healthcare for diversity.
Tell us about your career journey in healthcare and what impact has becoming a member of the BERGs made for you in your career here.
Olushola: I truly didn’t know I wanted to be a program manager until I worked on the Community Health team within the Community and Population Health division at Northwell. I am constantly inspired by the initiatives we work on, with a focus on supporting historically underserved communities within our region. Our goal is to always ensure we build and maintain relationships with community leaders from diverse backgrounds.
Our connection to the BERGs has enabled the Community and Population Health Division to ensure that our initiatives are reflective of the communities we serve. We often look to the BERGs and the BERG chairs to review and recommend diverse community members or leaders from every walk of life, to benefit from Northwell resources and services.
Dr. Iloabachie: I grew up in Queens so after I finished my residency in Maryland in 2016, I knew I wanted to come home to New York. A colleague of mine told me about Northwell Health and what an amazing organization it was, so I decided to apply. After I accepted the Attending Physician position at LIJVS, not only was I incredibly attracted to the community that the hospital supports, but I have now spent the past six years connecting to the surrounding community through our BERGs in more ways than I ever could have imagined. In 2020, I accepted the position of Associate Chairperson and have really felt that this location has truly become my home.
Dr. Williams: I knew I wanted to be an industrial/organizational psychologist right around when I left high school, but I did not know yet that I wanted it to be in health care. That realization came when I joined Northwell in 2016. I saw the impact of the work that we were doing to develop culturally tailored interventions for historically minoritized racial and ethnic minority groups, to provide individuals with access to care and change policies – that’s when I knew I wanted to be in healthcare. My experience throughout life and my career have shaped my research interests and the work that I do. Being in health care and in my role affords me the opportunity to explore my passions through my research, while making a difference for people who look, and sound like me.
Not only do I feel a stronger sense of community as a BERG member but I’ve also had the opportunity to meet amazing people with similar cultural backgrounds as myself that I would not otherwise meet. Being in the AA/AC BERGS had a positive ripple effect on my professional development. Since joining, I have been able to take part in numerous opportunities specifically for Black employees that I would not have otherwise known about and for more individuals to know about the work that I do as a researcher to help our community. Most recently because of my membership in AA/AC BERGS I was selected to participate in Northwell’s inaugural cohort for the McKinsey Black Management Accelerator Program. McKinsey’s Connected Leaders Academy provides organizations the opportunity to improve their talent pipeline and unlock their organization’s full potential.
Northwell continues to commit to valuing and reflecting on diversity in healthcare and aspires to promote the positive impact and achievements of the members of our organization. Learn more about Northwell’s commitment to diversity and inclusion here.