Strength in Diversity

Kaiser Permanente’s business resource groups help improve health outcomes by removing barriers to care.

Feature Story
Laura Thomas, DNP
Laura Thomas, DNP

As a commander in the U.S. Air Force, advanced practice nurse Laura Thomas spent 6 months in Afghanistan overseeing medical operations at the Bagram Air Base hospital. The role was one of many demanding assignments she completed during 12 years in the military.

But when she retired from service, Thomas faced an unexpected challenge: returning to civilian life. Although she loved her job as director of Clinical Practice for advanced practice nurses and physician assistants at Kaiser Permanente in Colorado, the transition was difficult.

“Veterans may appear stoic — I’ve even been called unfriendly,” Thomas said, “but we have a passion for what we do that needs to be fostered.”

One thing that helped was becoming part of Kaiser Permanente’s Veterans Association.

“Having peers who are at various stages of that transition is essential,” said Thomas. “I’m also passionate about the association’s goal of serving veterans in our community by filling their health care needs.”

Members of KP Pride march in San Francisco’s 2016 Pride Parade.

Members of KP Pride march in San Francisco’s 2016 Pride Parade.

Greater than the sum of our parts

The Veterans Association is one of 10 similar groups at Kaiser Permanente known as “business resource groups,” or BRGs. They include associations of women, people with disabilities, African Americans, Latinos, lesbian and gay employees, and more. While employee groups like these exist at many organizations, those at Kaiser Permanente are unique in their efforts to improve health outcomes.

“In the beginning, our emphasis was on providing networking and leadership development opportunities for under-represented groups,” said Jacob Zuniga, director of national Engagement and Inclusion. “That’s still important, but we’ve recognized that there’s more our BRGs can help us accomplish.

“By deepening our engagement with the diverse communities we serve, our BRGs can help us improve health and provide more equitable health outcomes. Their insights can also help us grow our business by identifying and removing barriers to care.”

Building cultural competency

As co-chair of KP Pride Colorado, Rachelle Woods, MSN, has already seen how a deeper connection with the LGBTQ community can help enhance care while correcting misconceptions about Kaiser Permanente.

“The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 20 percent of Colorado respondents had avoided seeing a doctor because they were worried about being mistreated,” Woods said.

“I’m the nursing professional development consultant for Transgender Services, so I’m able to share with Pride members some of the things we’re doing to change that, such as training front-line staff to provide culturally competent care and supporting children and teens who are questioning their sexual identity,” she said.

“Group members share that information with their communities, and many go back to their workplaces and say, ‘Here are some things we can do to increase our cultural sensitivity.’”

Expanding access to care

In Georgia, the KP Latino Association works closely with community organizations to champion Latino talent in the workplace while improving the health of the Latino community. That, in turn, helps Kaiser Permanente achieve its goal of expanding access to care through sustainable growth.

“I’ve developed a great relationship with the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and they’ve helped me identify individuals in the community who need coverage,” said Co-Chair Tammy Palmgren, director of Medicare Sales.

Palmgren added, “I’m proud to work for an organization that is so committed to breaking down barriers to care.”