In the introductory season of the STAR² Center Talks Workforce Success podcast, Michelle Fernández Gabilondo, Senior Training Specialist at ACU, gives you a glimpse into the integral role Chief Workforce Officers (CWO) play in advancing health center workforce success. In this episode Michelle interviews Rosa Agosto, Chief Talent and Learning Officer at Urban Health Plan in New York, about how she builds diversity in her health center’s workforce that is reflective of the community they serve.
Full Transcript: Building Health Center Workforce Diversity
Introduction: Welcome to STAR² Center Chats with Workforce Leaders, which features the voices of health center experts from around the nation. We know this invaluable information will help in your journey to advance the workforce initiatives of your organization.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Welcome everyone. My name is Michelle Fernández. I’m the senior training specialist at ACU and today we’re going to be interviewing Rosa Agosto. She is the chief talent and learning officer at Urban Health Plan, and we’re very excited to have her join us. Welcome, Rosa.
Rosa Agosto: Thank you so much for having me.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: We’re going to get started with just a few questions, if that is okay with you?
Rosa Agosto: Absolutely.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Great. So, the first one, health centers were really started by communities for communities. That’s really the foundation of what health centers are. And the aim is to build a workforce that is reflective of those communities in which they serve. So, can you just tell me a little bit more about your health center? Where it’s located? And the patients that you serve?
Rosa Agosto: Sure. So, we started in the South Bronx, that’s where our heart is. That’s where our foundation is.
Rosa Agosto: And, but we now have centers in several areas throughout the Bronx, mostly in the South Bronx, nevertheless. We have a significant work that we do in Corona, Queens with people who are… For undocumented people without papers to be here. So, it’s a really, I think, very needy community. And we also have a center in Central Harlem that despite it being gentrified, it has a need for community health centers. We serve over 90,000 patients a year and I would say 20,000 more people who are not necessarily patients go into the exam room with people from the community.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: That’s amazing. Actually, I lived in New York City for many years. So, I think the work that all of you are doing is actually, it’s absolutely amazing.
Rosa Agosto: Thank you.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Yeah. And as you were mentioning, you have really a diverse group of patients, and that leads me into the next question is, what are some of the things that your health center or yourself are doing to really try to build that diversity in your workforce so that it reflects those patients that you serve?
Rosa Agosto: Yeah, so we basically just hire, I think that’s very emblematic of community health centers, we hire from the communities we serve and you hire at all levels. So, you hire your frontline staff, your drivers, your receptionist, your medical assistants, and so on. You tend to hire from the communities that you serve. And you know that it’s almost an automatic representation. I think the hardest part comes as you go up the… As you move into the professional job titles, such as health providers and other administrators who are often not found in those communities, but we are actually pretty good. Our provider face is quite reflective of our community. And I would say that almost all of our administrators are.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: That’s great, because I agree. I think that becomes a little bit more complicated. And I think you hit on a really good topic there, and you may not have an exact answer because I know that with these questions, there’s never an exact answer, but what are some of those strategies that you are using in your health center, so that when you’re looking at providers or C-suite, or that leadership director level, does have that diversity, because I know you and I have had this conversation before. Diversity encompasses many different factors. So, you may have race, ethnicity, but also age generations, work experience, education. So, it can get very complex.
Rosa Agosto: Right, right. So, you can’t have a checkoff for every else, you’ll never going to have any work, you’re never going to hire anyone. But I think one of the simplest way to do this is by really having partnerships with schools of higher education, as well as career and technical schools that you… Those partnerships and training and providing opportunities for training, rotations, internships, mentoring to those students or to those emerging or burgeoning professionals allows you to bring them into your pipeline as your future or very immediate workforce. So, we… Especially with schools that have kindred mission to community health centers. And there are quite a number of them that really want to have different representatives, have representatives of communities in the healthcare workforce, not only in your entry level positions, but also in your professional positions.
Rosa Agosto: So, we have partnerships with CUNY Medical School, with Sophie Davis Biomedical School, with the entire CUNY system, and the various Lehman College for Nurse Practitioners, and other schools for PAs, other schools for that trained people in public health and in public administration.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Great. That’s wonderful. So, would you say that you really are prioritizing those partnerships as you move forward in your workforce initiatives?
Rosa Agosto: It is important for us that the partnerships that we have, and we have so many, but at this point we really prioritize those. The one, we know their students will come and work with us, that they have the ability, the desire, and the want, and the energy to come and work in our settings. And two, if when we speak to their students, we get a sense and we have questions about them wanting to work in primary care and wanting to work in our communities.
Rosa Agosto: We need to prioritize that or else we become a training ground for a lot of professions and people who are not going to work with us, and were not going to work with organizations like ours.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Exactly, exactly. So, it’s not just training, but also making sure, recruit them in and then be able to retain them as part of the health center mission. Wonderful. So, I want to switch just a little bit just to find out a little bit more about you. So, can you tell us about your professional journey? How did you get into this role of chief talent and learning officer? How long have you been in this role? We really just want to learn a little bit more about you.
Rosa Agosto: Sure. So, being a learning officer, you usually have, I think, a degree in Adult Education and the training of managers and stuff like that.
Rosa Agosto: I have been fortunate in that I like to study. And I have several degrees. And my degrees are in Education and Psychology for the most part. So, I think that those degrees have prepped me, and I went to a school that really focuses on the adult learners, which is kind of my field, but my career up until becoming a chief learning officer was really in leading and developing programs here in New York City and across the country in providing, being the head of a national center, which it was a training center. So, I think that being in program development leads you into knowing what are those needs to be able to serve communities at the periphery.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Great. And I have to say, I know that you’re excellent in your role.
Rosa Agosto: Oh, thank you.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: I got put that out there. So, just to wrap up one final question, because this is about workforce that we’re talking about.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: So, how do you really think, not just the role of a chief workforce officer, but similar roles, kind of yourself with being a chief talent and learning officer, really contribute to the overall success of the health center. Why is workforce so important?
Rosa Agosto: Well, you can’t serve people if you don’t have people serving the people. So, you have to have a workforce that is appropriately trained, that is aligned with your vision and your mission. That not only has competency knows how to do their jobs, but they have the core essential skills of relating to our community. So, it’s a rounded version. And you don’t necessarily get that alone by sending people out to training in any skill area, but you get that by building a culture and then being able to inject that culture into your end, in acclimating people into that culture, you have to have the platforms, if you will, and the ways of disseminating that information.
Rosa Agosto: And so, learning not only happens in the classroom through training and through virtual exchanges and digital exchanges, but it also happens through a whole set of learning mechanisms that constitute your culture as well.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Wonderful. Thank you. I’m so glad that you brought up the point of culture. I think that the point that you made was so powerful. So, I just want to say thank you overall. Rosa, thank you for being here, answering my questions. Like I said, I know that you’re amazing at the work that you do. So, we really appreciate having you here today.
Rosa Agosto: Thank you so much, Michelle, and I hope to see you soon.
Closing: Thank you very much for joining us today. We hope today’s conversation provided you with great insight into the important role a chief workforce officer plays in the overall success of your health center. Check out all of our free workforce tools and resources on health center workforce diversity and other topics at chcworkforce.org.