Porter Hospital launches DEI program to address healthcare inequalities

By Maggie Reynolds

Lucy Townend
Porter Hospital is in the process of creating a permanent display in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in one of the center’s main vestibules as part of their DEI initiative.

Porter Hospital launched several diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in February in an effort to ensure more equitable healthcare for Vermonters. 

One initiative involved the formation of the hospital’s first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)  Council. “Porter did not have a formal mechanism for addressing DEI issues prior to the formation of the DEI Council,” said Dr. Francisco Corbalan, a member of the newly formed council. 

In order to gauge the specific concerns of Porter employees, the DEI Council conducted an employee survey with questions such as “How comfortable do you feel at work?”, “How much do you think your voice is being heard?” and “Do you feel like you are welcomed and valued?” About 47% of the Porter workforce responded to the survey. 

Based on the survey’s results, one focus of the DEI Council has become making the hospital more accessible and inclusive for Spanish speakers. 

“Inclusivity often feels elusive when someone who doesn’t speak English walks into our hospital and can’t find the department they are trying to find,” said registered nurse Becci Gordon, who is also part of the council. 

For this reason, the council is working on adding more onsite translation signs, creating phone options for Spanish speakers and displaying messages stating that discrimination will not be tolerated.

Last February, Porter also began displaying a Black Lives Matter flag at the facility’s entrance in celebration of Black History Month . The hospital is continuing to fly the flag beyond Black History Month “as an acknowledgement that [anti-racism] work must continue,” according to a press release

“Our local focus on DEI was truly driven by the national response to the George Floyd death and other similar incidents,” said Ron Hallman, spokesperson for Porter.

Dr. John Brumsted, CEO and president of UVM Health Network — the larger network that Porter is part of —  has made DEI programming a major priority for the entire network over the past year. 

Dr. Brumsted said in a statement that UVM Health Network’s goal for its DEI initiatives is “to create a culture that is diverse, equitable and inclusive for our employees, patients and communities we serve.”

“Our very broad goal is to make Porter a more inclusive and welcoming place to both work and receive health care,” Dr. Corbalan said, echoing Dr. Brumsted’s statement. 

Porter has also taken advantage of college-specific resources such as the Middlebury College Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (OIDEI), which includes the Anderson Freeman Center, Disability Resource Center, and the Civil Rights and Title IX Committee, among others.

Renee Wells, Middlebury’s director of education for equity and inclusion, spoke about her involvement in the hospital’s efforts. 

“The Porter DEI Committee reached out to me last fall, and I met with them to talk about possible goals and action items they might focus on as they were launching their committee,” Wells said. She has been in contact with members of the council periodically since the fall, and she has been able to offer advice about DEI initiatives.

Hallman feels that the initiative is coming at a good time, considering the inequities Covid-19 has illuminated nationwide. 

“The impact of Covid-19 on our greater population throughout the United States has once again illustrated the inequity and the uneven impact of the pandemic on different people based on their race and social/demographic profile,” he said.

Chief Medical Officer and DEI councilmember Anna Benvenuto feels positively about the change the DEI Council is enacting. 

“I’m really proud of the work the council is doing. It’s foundational to our community, and it’s acknowledging the ways in which inequities and systemic issues — whether it’s racism or anti-LGBTQ sentiments — have created disparities in health care outcomes,” Benvenuto said to the Addison Independent. 

Dr. Corbalan feels similarly energized by the work of the council so far. “The work has been humbling, challenging and inspiring,” he said. “Diversity, equity and inclusion are big words; translating those words into tangible, substantive actions is an incredibly delicate and complex process.”