Before becoming president of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals of the Northwest, Ruth Williams-Brinkley began her career as a post anesthesia nurse at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago. In addition to helping her gain deep understanding of the importance of high-quality patient care, it also opened her eyes to the vital role that women play in delivering health care.
“Almost all of my nurse colleagues, as well as a few of my physician anesthesia and surgery colleagues, were women,” says Williams-Brinkley. “We formed a strong bond around our mutual care and concern for patients navigating the journey through the perioperative care delivery process. As a young nurse, I was truly grounded by that experience, and over the years, I continued to see how much value women contribute to the health care delivery system and leadership teams.”
Imelda Dacones, MD, an internal medicine physician and the president and CEO of Northwest Permanente, immigrated to this country as a young girl. Without health insurance and burdened with chronic illnesses, like high blood pressure and diabetes, her mother is her enduring inspiration. She notes, “Equity, inclusion and diversity, through the lens of culturally competent care, in our principles and in action, are critical drivers of high-quality patient care.” She explains, “In the end, a diverse and inclusive Kaiser Permanente workforce and leadership result in healthier communities, which are themselves diverse, in many ways.”
Both were drawn to Kaiser Permanente — the region’s largest fully insured carrier and integrated care delivery system — in part by the appeal of joining a strong, diverse team of leaders. Through its unique integrated model, Kaiser Permanente provides award-winning health care to more than 600,000 individuals in the Northwest.
“Women make up nearly 80 percent of the health care workforce, yet as in many other industries, we’ve been underrepresented at the leadership level,” says Williams-Brinkley. “Having female leaders at all levels is important because we should reflect the diverse communities we serve. Leaders must be on the front lines in promoting and supporting health equity, inclusion and diversity across all communities.”
Kaiser Permanente believes that strong leadership is not a function of gender; however, leadership performance is greatly enhanced when teams are equitable, inclusive and diverse. The strongest companies understand the need for diversity at all levels of leadership — particularly at the top. Williams-Brinkley and Dr. Dacones concur: “We take seriously our responsibilities as leaders to improve the health of all our members, as well as the communities we serve.”