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Diversifying the nursing workforce in Colorado

Nurses are taking a hard look at their ranks and a top down scrutiny of a lack of diversity.

DENVER — Colorado nurses have every right to pat themselves on the back for the service they provided this state since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They are also taking a hard look at their ranks now -- a top-down scrutiny of their lack of diversity. 

Nurses say it's costing lives and proper health care for some of their patients. 

The Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence is upfront that there is a problem. The demographics don't reflect the people who live in Colorado. 

"From a nursing standpoint," said Ingrid Johnson, CEO and president of the center. "Maybe 90% of the RNs in the state are white women." 

Jonson's colleague, Mauritha Hughes, dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion work, added, "If we don't begin to focus on health equity and positive health outcomes for all people, especially people that data shows us are not thriving, not having positive outcomes, people will continue to die." 

The center has been working on this issue for years. Now their efforts are reinvigorated for a few reasons. 

"With COVID, we know that we really saw health disparities in our communities of color," said Johnson.

Hughes said this was an opportunity to take a close look at bias. 

"Within our systems, within us as individuals, we all have bias. And it impacts daily decisions, communications as we interact with people," Hughes said.

"If this person looked different would I be treating them differently?" said Johnson. "That's a hard cold reality for people in health care to look in the eye but we have to do it." 

The center is now working on improving the pipeline, starting with supporting kids in school who are interested in health care. 

The pipeline includes mentoring minority students and first-generation college students as well as focusing on retention once people are hired and diversifying leadership. 

The center is also working with hospital systems, including Children's Hospital Colorado that's long been doing this work. 

"In general, our staff compared to the statewide census is fairly close," said Heidi Baskfield with Children's, "Our goal is to look at more along the lines of what does our patient population look like. We've got a lot of work to do." 

Now the hospital is adding more to its programs, including engaging staff in different ways for equity work and more initiatives. 

Robert Franklin II, who works on diversity, equity and inclusion at the hospital said that includes the Captains of Inclusion program and the hospital's Black Health Initiative. Their work is not just for nurses but staff across the board. 

"We see it every day, how health care is not getting right and hasn't historically gotten it right for certain groups in our community and in our country," said Franklin II, "We want to do better." 

The center also added that good data is hard to come by when it comes to studying demographics among health care staff. A lot of it has been gathered via survey data and putting the pieces together anecdotally. The center is hoping to find ways to be able to gather that data better. 

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