Home health provider shows table to senior and young friend or relative

Typically, an individual receives the American Association for Men in Nursing’s (AAMN) Inclusion & Diversity Excellence Award. This year, for the first time in the group’s 50 year history, the award was bestowed on an organization: hospice firm VITAS Healthcare. 

“To see an outside organization like AAMN, who are peers from different walks of the healthcare industry, to recognize us and to bestow this honor of this inaugural award on us, it’s really very humbling stuff,” Diane Deese, VP of community affairs at VITAS, told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. “We’ll always be appreciative that we received the inaugural award.”

To VITAS, it was further validation of the organization’s commitment to DEI initiatives in its work.

“Diversity is about representation. Equity is about outcomes. And an inclusion is about culture and experience,” Deese said. 

One of the industry’s challenges is the lack of diversity among the roughly 1.5 million hospice patients in the United States, she noted.

“All Americans [need] to have the options and easy access to hospice care so that they can receive this care and support during a crucial time in their lives,” said Deese. “Less than 10% are African American, less than 8% are Hispanic and less than 4% are Asian.”

DEI initiatives are part of the strategy in fighting these care gaps.

“That’s just based on race alone,” she pointed out. “The reason that makes those numbers even more devastating is because people of color carry an equal or higher incidence of having all hospice-appropriate illness. So you can see the disparity there and then why diversity and inclusion and equity becomes so important.”

The nursing ranks that serve these patients also suffer from a lack of inclusion, she said. According to Deese, AAMN estimates there are 380,000 male nurses in the United States, up from 310,000 in 2018. VITAS not only has made an effort to recruit these ranks, but to empower them as well. 

“It’s been noted that 40% of all caregivers are now men,” she said. “We not only hire male nurses but we also work with our male nurses to look at leadership positions and that has made a difference with our company and the ability to recruit others as well.”

Beyond its efforts to diversify staff and patients, VITAS works to be actively involved in the communities it serves. These efforts have ranged from bringing the final Tuskegee airmen and women on an Honor Flight to Washington DC. to see the memorials in their honor, partnering with local churches and food banks to provide Thanksgiving meals to those in need, as well as strategically placing an inpatient unit along a bus route on Chicago’s South Side. Deese, a South Side native, was an active participant in that effort.

“I actually happened to be the general manager that opened that inpatient unit in Chicago on the bus line. And to this day, 20 years later, it is still there,” Deese said. “When we go into this community, we go to meetings, we go to community events, we listen to what people are saying, we listen to what some of the leaders are saying so that they try to see, we want to work with them.”

Even as it has earned some well-deserved recognition, VITAS will continue to pursue its mission. 

“Our message is really clear, not a patient zip code, or their location of residence. nor their race, religion or gender stops us from delivering quality care,” Deese said. “We try to work hard every day and it has no boundaries because we do feel that everyone deserves to receive quality life care.”

Home Sweet Home is a feature appearing Mondays in McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. The story focuses on a heartwarming, entertaining or quirky happening affecting the world of home care. If you have a topic that might be worthy of the spotlight in Home Sweet Home, please email Liza Berger at [email protected].