Tina Nixon: Questions shape diversity conversation at PinnacleHealth

Cathy Hirko//November 15, 2016

Tina Nixon: Questions shape diversity conversation at PinnacleHealth

Cathy Hirko//November 15, 2016

It’s a simple concept, really. Ask questions when you are curious, unsure or want to gain insight. As senior vice president of mission effectiveness and chief diversity officer for Harrisburg-based PinnacleHealth System, she understands how her organization needs to provide an encouraging and inviting environment for those questions.

Nurses, doctors and many other personnel are on the front lines with the public. They have to navigate language barriers, religious beliefs, cultures, various backgrounds, all of which play a factor in communication.

Throw into the mix a hospital emergency, illness or surgery, and clear, vital communication takes on life-saving properties.

It was spring 2015, when Nixon took a career move from heading the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg for 15 years to the diversity executive position with PinnacleHealth. She wasn’t looking to leave the YWCA, she said, but when the  opportunity presented itself, she went for it.

Nixon’s Harrisburg-area connections played a key role in the move, especially her work in the community with the YWCA. PinnacleHealth wanted someone with experience communicating with a diverse community.

“Health care is changing, we want to do it differently. As we move from internally to externally, and navigate to the population, they needed someone who is able to do that.”

Acting in chunks

A PennLive.com article at the time described Nixon’s new position in these terms: the diversity leadership role involved “creating an environment of respect and understanding for people off all races, genders and religions within PinnacleHealth.”

That’s a lot of responsibility. Nixon said her husband, James, has a saying that she likes to refer to when the job duties pile on.

“My husband will tell me, ‘Honey, you can’t save the entire world. One piece at a time,’” Nixon said.

Vision, company goals, new projects and incorporating change involve pieces: deliverable “chunks” is how Nixon describes it. “You have to put it in chunks.”

“It’s one piece at a time. What are the needs?” she said. She also gives credit to her coworkers. “I don’t do that by myself. I have diversity champions.”

Nixon is responsible for “infusing the mission and vision of (PinnacleHealth) internally and throughout the community.” She makes sure that whoever interacts with PinnacleHealth is treated with respect. She helps her staff become culturally competent.

How does that happen? Questions and building on those questions whenever it’s needed.

Staff at PinnacleHealth are on the front lines in their communities – a community diverse in economic needs, race, religion and culture. A community of many who are employed at PinnacleHealth and might be unsure of how to interact or relate to their differences.

But they need to. They provide emergency care and assistance at times under the most stressful conditions.

“I call it out,” Nixon said. “You know people want to ask (about areas they have no knowledge about) but they are afraid to. They are afraid it would be offensive.”

Nixon doesn’t want fear to prevent employees from learning.

“What do we have? What is needed and how do we get there?” she said. “I know a lot of people have questions and they are embarrassed to ask. I think that people should know. Ninety percent of the people want to be asked.”

For example, a local community volunteer, who is Muslim, agreed to help Nixon relay some of the differences to staff in a workshop-like atmosphere.

“Ask me about my headpiece, ask me about what I wear,” Nixon recalled her friend advising the the group. “It’s really good that she was open and receptive,” Nixon said.

And Nixon learns with the hospital’s staff. In one case, Nixon said she found out religious beliefs don’t allow women and men to shake hands.

“That was something that I didn’t know,” she said. “That’s diversity. It’s forever learning, but it’s really about communication. If you don’t know, ask.”

About Tina Nixon

Nixon has been with PinnacleHealth System since spring 2015.

She previously worked for the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg for 15 years. She was the CEO.

Nixon and her husband, James, are the parents of 19-year-old twins, Miles and Miranda.