How a former Walgreens exec is tackling health equity at Michigan’s largest health system

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A management training program at an insurance company was supposed to serve as a placeholder job until Carlos Cubia got into the Secret Service, fulfilling his dreams of a career in law enforcement.

Instead, Cubia has ascended to the C-suite at some of the nation’s largest healthcare firms, including Walgreens.

In his latest role, Cubia is returning to his native Michigan to lead diversity and inclusion efforts at the state’s largest health system, BHSH System — a temporary name for the newly combined system born out of a merger between Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health earlier this year .

He’s the first to hold the executive title for the newly formed organization that has a large presence in Michigan with 22 hospitals and one million health plan members.

Healthcare Dive sat down with Cubia to discuss how he plans to tackle his role as chief diversity officer, a position he says has evolved dramatically in recent decades. Organizations now view it as an essential role for driving overall strategy and have begun adding it to the executive suite.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

HEALTHCARE DIVE: You’ve joined an organization that is steeped in care delivery. BHSH has both a health plan and hospital operations, how does that change the way you work?

CUBIA: They’re more stakeholders that I need to engage with, but the underlying principles of the work doesn’t change because it’s all people centric.

You’ve probably heard this many times: employees are our most important asset. Every CEO says it, I don’t care how big or how small.

If that’s truly the case, and they believe that, what resources are they putting towards developing, retaining and engaging their people? So the [diversity, equity and inclusion] work doesn’t change because at the root of all of it, it’s about treating people with dignity and respect.

I could sum up my work in those two words. If people that I deal with walk away at the end of the day and say, ‘my employer makes me feel like I’m respected and that I’m included.’ Then that’s a win for [diversity, equity and inclusion].

You have a tall order. You’ve been tasked with system-wide transformational and innovative inclusion, transforming the health of communities, improving health equity and fostering a culture of belonging. Where do you start?

CUBIA: When people talk to me about that very long title, I say my role is about making people feel like they matter. That we understand, celebrate and value the differences that we all have. This organization is 64,000-ish people. We’re a microcosm of society.

The things that you want are no different from the things that I want. We may go about getting them differently, but we all want the same things in life. We want opportunities to succeed. We want to live a healthy and happy life.

We want to make sure that we are reaching out and giving back to the community that we do business with. What does that mean? It means that there are opportunities to give contracts to small and minority- and women-owned businesses, to help them to build economic impact so that they can build up the communities that they live in.

Your role is two-fold. How do you both change a culture and address inequities inside and outside an organization?

CUBIA: There is inequity in healthcare. There’s enough data and research out there to fill the Library of Congress that says there’s inequity in the way health care is delivered. So what we’re trying to do is to remove those inequities and bring them to the forefront so that doctors, patients and caregivers are aware.

People want personalized care. If the demographics are shifting, then our approach to dealing with those demographics has to also change and shift.

So we have to keep up with the market. We have to keep up with the changes in the market and we have to connect with the communities that we’re trying to do business with.

Can you explain the data you’re most interested in and where you want to move the needle?

CUBIA: Without hesitation, I can tell you that data is going to be key to the success of anything that I bring forward.

One of the first things I asked for when I got here was a data person so we can dive into the numbers. What’s our starting point? What are we benchmarking against? We’re going to use that data to inform our strategy and then we will report out on it because I think transparency is key.

We look at all of the dimensions of diversity.

It may not only be around our workforce but how we work with the community. How much money are we spending with various-owned businesses?

One of the things I want to do is dive deep into our supplier diversity, and be very intentional about where we’re spending money.

I think my talents can come in here and help us to start to look at the entire organization and make sure that the [diversity, equity and inclusion] is embedded in every decision that we make.

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