WILMINGTON, NC – As part of its strategic emphasis on becoming a national leader in health equity, New Hanover Regional Medical Center has hired Joe Conway as its first Director of Health Equity and Human Experience.
“Health equity” refers to the social reality that not all patients have the same access to health care, or the same ability or opportunity to access the care that is available. Social barriers, such as housing, food and transportation, and long-embedded racial and other biases prevent many in our community from achieving the best health care and quality of life possible.
Conway has worked at NHRMC for 10 years. He comes to this new role following four years as a Lean Coach and Facilitator. He will develop strategies and oversee the implementation of the hospital’s Health Equity program, which is one of the three primary pillars in its recently adopted Strategic Plan. He will work in coordination with physicians in the health system and community, NHRMC staff and leadership, and community stakeholders.
“At NHRMC we believe that improving health outcomes while eliminating demographic disparities is the key fundamental for Leading Our Community to Outstanding Health,” said Chief Physician Executive Phil Brown, quoting the health system’s mission statement. “Although only one of many talents, it is Joe’s passion for organizational development of cultural competency that makes him uniquely prepared to lead our efforts in health equity and human understanding. We are thrilled to have him accept this important new role.”
Conway began his work with NHRMC in December 2007 as an Operations Manager for NHRMC’s Environmental Services before joining the Lean Department, which coaches staff and leadership in developing process improvements that benefit patients throughout the health system. Prior to moving to NHRMC, he worked six years in leadership positions in Environmental Services within health care in Louisiana and Mississippi.
“New Hanover Regional Medical Center has done great work in reaching a point where the employee population reflects the community it serves; however, disparities still exist within the under- or unrepresented populations within our own organization and the community,” Conway said. “It will be our primary focus to assess and increase the cultural competence of the organization that we may better serve our patients, their families, the community, and employees. I am truly honored to serve in this capacity and look forward to developing better health equity for all.”
Health industry leaders are focusing more attention on the “Social Determinants of Health,” which describe environmental and behavioral matters that recent research says account for 70 percent of an individual’s health. Many patients who repeatedly need hospital care can break that cycle with earlier and more effective access to food, education, safe housing, steady employment and many other social needs.
New Hanover Regional Medical Center is beginning a more concentrated effort to focus on this approach in specific neighborhoods of high need. Conway’s role will be vital in coordinating these efforts.
The industry is also beginning to better understand the impact of bias on healthcare quality, whether that bias is based on race, religion, gender, sexuality or other factors. Another part of Conway’s role will be working with caregivers and all staff to foster cultural competency and help create care environments that optimize these capabilities so that the health system can deliver compassionate care based on the personal values of those we serve.
Conway, who begins his new role on September 11, possesses a Bachelor of Arts degree in Church Ministries and formerly served as a Pastor & Music Minister on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. He obtained his Master's Degree in Healthcare Management in 2014 and is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives.
His passions include his wife of 26 years, his four boys, and his focus on building health equity in southeastern North Carolina.