Q&A with Banner Health’s Chief Diversity Officer: Dru Bhattacharya
Dru Bhattacharya, Chief Diversity Officer,
Joining Banner’s team in May 2022 as Chief Diversity Officer, Dru Bhattacharya brings exceptional skills to this transformative role. An interdisciplinary scientist, scholar and health system leader, Dru’ brings experience in clinical epidemiology, health law, public health, and diversity and inclusion. In this role, he is responsible for the design, development, implementation, strategic direction and leadership for all Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs and initiatives at Banner Health to foster an inclusive culture, attract diverse candidates, and demonstrate a commitment to DE&I throughout the communities we serve.
Q. Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health and a Master of Laws from Georgetown University, School of Law, a post-doctoral certification in clinical epidemiology from Harvard Medical School, and recently completed an Executive Master of Business Administration. Impressive. So, with that background and education, can you tell us your trajectory from there to Banner?
A. I owe everything I have to integrity. My journey to Banner began long before DE&I became fashionable in health care. In my career, I witnessed many unethical practices and behaviors exhibited by people in authority. We all did the DE&I training and knew better, but nobody ever spoke up against unethical practices. At one point, however, I realized that my reluctance to speak up was compromising my character—so I spoke up. And I lost my job because of it.
Ironically, around that same time, I had a realization that there was a subtle relationship between DE&I and health disparities, and that its scope should encompass patients, team members, and communities. Fast-forward to 2019, and I get my opportunity as an executive in a large health system in the Midwest. I was able to leverage my training to oversee civil rights investigations and interpreter services for patients. Nine months later, I received a note that we would be shifting our focus because of an emerging infectious disease outbreak (COVID-19). Over the ensuing months, I began leading patient, team member, and community-facing initiatives in response to the greatest public health crisis in over a century. I led a patient prioritization team that developed the algorithm to identify patients who should be eligible for scarce COVID-19 vaccination, including community-based clinics for underrepresented communities severely burdened by the virus; established 55 community flu clinics delivering over 8,000 vaccines; and created a health equity policy committee internally that reviewed over 35 policies to enhance our efforts to promote better and more equitable access to care with leaders from safety, ethics, patient relations, civil rights, legal, spiritual and mission services, among others.
When Banner Health announced its search for a Chief Diversity Officer, I know it was a perfect fit. I recently found myself sitting next to Banner Health’s CEO, Peter Fine, at a summit where he gave a talk on integrity. He said, “Making the right decision, knowing that it could cost you your job—that’s personal risk. Integrity comes out the most when there’s personal risk involved in the decision. But when personal risk is in play, it’s pretty hard.” So, integrity is why I’m here. And integrity is why I’m at home at Banner.
Q. You’ve been here since May 2022. How did you begin your role?
A. It begins with humility, patience, and precision. The DE&I space requires continuous learning. Change doesn’t happen overnight. And health care is a unique industry with three stakeholders —patients, team members, and communities—each with unique needs. I work with a spirit of collaboration that combines bottom-up and top-down approaches to identify our challenges and opportunities. From a strategic perspective, we have developed a new DE&I strategy that broadens the scope of the work to address those three groups of stakeholders and we’ve taken steps to demonstrate success in those areas.
Q. Could you break down to a basic level Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, particularly in workplace settings?
Diversity is differences, and inclusion is about creating spaces where people belong. Valuing differences and fostering belonging leads to better care, innovation, and community partnerships. In the workplace, diversity efforts have historically been about racial and ethnic differences. In practice, you ideally have a diverse slate of qualified applicants, a high conversion rate that yields a diverse workforce, and a high participation rate in workforce development opportunities. But, if talent acquisition doesn’t recruit from a diverse pipeline, if hiring managers don’t offer opportunities to qualified underrepresented candidates, and if leaders do not mentor or sponsor team members to grow, we won’t see sustainable results.
With inclusion, consider differences in age, disability status, and socioeconomic backgrounds. You quickly realize that the aspiration of creating a diverse and inclusive workforce takes effort. That’s why it’s not on any one department or person but rather it becomes a collective responsibility to intentionally build and grow our team to value differences and foster belonging.
Q. Why are Diversity, Equity and Inclusion so important to and for an organization like Banner Health?
A. Our new DE&I mission is, “When everyone belongs, life is better.” Belonging secures trust, and when that trust is secured, you see better care and patient outcomes; you increase productivity and create spaces to innovate; you strengthen community partnerships. We often measure an organization’s commitment to something by its investment in financial resources. Money matters, but it will only buy you time. In DE&I, the most important element of success is integrity. So, prioritization done right means a commitment to behavior that begins with each of us—from the new hire to the CEO—to value differences and foster belonging. In doing so, we begin to see care within our walls as part of a broader community that we serve.
Q. What is something no one would guess about you?
A. I love to write and have been trying my hand in creative writing over the past few years, dabbling in screenwriting and currently working on a novel. I’ve submitted my pilot screenplay to a few small competitions and placed, so that was neat. And I’m hoping to knock out a novel in the year ahead. My kids have promised to read whatever I write, and that’s good enough for me!