Chineye Anako is one of our healthcare heroes because she is dedicated to supporting vulnerable populations and bringing more diverse voices to the table

Chineye Anako wears a lot of hats. She serves as the Regional Director of Diversity and Inclusion, supports the Community Health and Well Being department and still serves as the Language Services Program Administrator at Trinity Health Of New England. She’s been shaping health equity at the health system since 2014, overseeing and developing a comprehensive language services program to help overcome disparities in care. Originally, she was planning on going to Dental School but a year of community service in Public Health put her on the path to fight for health equity. We spoke with Chineye to learn more about the population she serves, how Diversity & Inclusion shapes her choices every day, and what inspires her to keep making a difference. Read the interview to see why he is one of our health care heroes.

CBK: Trinity Health Of New England’s website has an entire section dedicated to Diversity and Inclusion efforts. Can you talk about growing that initiative at Trinity Health?

Chineye: Absolutely. We structure our Diversity and Inclusion efforts around five work streams. Diversity & Governance, Diversity & Talent, Inclusive & Welcoming Environment, and Supplier Diversity. We know representation is extremely important. It’s one thing to have a voice at the table, but you have to make sure that voice is actually being heard. Last, but not least, is the Elimination of Health Disparities. A lot of language services work falls into this scope because a language barrier is a health equity issue. Mitigating those barriers early on allows for an organization to be people centered.

CBK: Supplier Diversity is interesting. That’s a really thorough look at how to evaluate Diversity and Inclusion in your work.

Chineye: We look at the work our vendors are doing, how diverse their portfolio is, and make sure we’re considering small and minority owned businesses as well.

I’ve seen Martti grow in my time here. And seeing what you’re doing and the programs that you’re spearheading – it’s going beyond a provision of services. You actually understand what Diversity and Inclusion looks like. And I think when you have a vendor that believes in that work, it translates into the relationship that you have with them.

CBK: Thank you. Care equity is extremely important to us. And it obviously is to you, too. Tell me more about your Diversity and Inclusion based work streams. Do they shape your digital strategy, too?

Chineye: They do. We’re very happy that we have our Partner Engagement Manager, Daniel Sanchez, because we’ve been talking about telehealth to help address some of these areas, but  COVID-19 has really pushed us to pursue them. Looking at the telehealth options available on the market, how can we ensure that even in a virtual setting our vulnerable populations are still getting their needs met? We’ve been having a lot of preliminary meetings to evaluate if our integrations are appropriate and compliant in their delivery. We’re looking to grow our department around language resources and distribution.

CBK: There’s so many telehealth platforms that don’t have integrated language access even though VRI is already prominent. But, you’ve just leveraged a Martti and Cisco Webex integration to put language access in more places. Can you talk about how you see that impact your diversity and inclusion?

Chineye: Now that we’re working with vaccine distribution and we have Martti devices on-site at vaccination clinics, we can ensure equitable access from registration to vaccine administration. We know a lot of individuals have questions, and we want to make sure those questions are answered appropriately in a way they can understand. We are going to be shifting a lot of our work into the telehealth space, and what we’re hoping is that we’re going to be able to eliminate barriers by ensuring our providers have language access literally at their fingertips. It’s worked relatively seamlessly. From an equity standpoint, we know that this thorough integration allows us to deliver the utmost standard of communication to our patients. In turn, it allows our providers to feel confident that they are effectively caring for their patients with the elimination of some of these barriers.

CBK: Wow, you’re using VRI technology at your vaccination sites? That’s amazing.

Chineye:  Yes. This is specifically at Saint Francis Hospital where our vaccination clinic has been based since December. It’s made the process a lot simpler, especially now that we’re in Phase 1B and we’re working with our elderly population of 65 and above. Some of these individuals are hard of hearing and we have a high volume of Spanish speakers in our area, especially in the south end of Hartford. The request came in from our strategic planning team and the devices were deployed within 10 minutes to the clinic. I will say overall as a team, we always work as swiftly as possible.

CBK: How have these digital solutions changed the way that you can safely care for patients during the pandemic? A lot of people have had to pivot.

Chineye: We’ve found that having dependable Wi-Fi services at our hospital allows us to minimize issues that patients may have encountered with video remote interpreting in the past. Having advanced technology paired with advanced equipment really adds to the efficacy of our patient care delivery. The use of in-person interpreters will not go anywhere, anytime soon, but the fact that there’s technology that has helped us ensure patients get what they needed right now is remarkable. It’s almost like the interpreters are also advocates for patients. During the pandemic, patients are largely in the hospital alone and a lot of our minority communities have an intrinsic distrust of the health care system and providers so having someone else in the room with you during these appointments makes them more comfortable.

CBK: You’re clearly extremely passionate. What is it that keeps you going after such a hard year?

Chineye: It has been an interesting year. Both hats I wear at the hospital have been impacted by all of the things that unraveled in 2020. Where I pull from to keep motivated is essentially being a people servant, being a voice for those who do not have the privilege or opportunity to have their voice heard. Do I find myself in way too many meetings? Yes. I get pulled away from some of the grass roots work that I love but speaking to colleagues, working directly with our vendors is what keeps me going.. Both of my roles are significantly impacted by being a liaison and working with our community and ensuring that we are doing the best that we can during very critical times.

CBK: I’m sure that’s meant a lot to your community.

Chineye: We’ve seen the disproportionate impact in Black and Brown communities when we think of COVID-19 and now we’re facing equity issues with the vaccine distribution. We know that the communities that are hardest hit have some vaccine hesitancy, because of historic (and still current) treatment of those individuals in the health care system. Acknowledging those things immediately and then saying, “This is how we’re making sure we can overcome it is what health care systems should be doing, and it’s what Trinity Health is doing. We have to confront these issues and communicate how we’re going to overcome them in order to gain some level of trust from our community.

CBK: What advice would you have for another institution that’s looking to stand up Diversity and Inclusion, and make a difference for their most vulnerable populations? Where do you start and what do you keep in mind?

Chineye: One thing I’d definitely advise is that Diversity and Inclusion work – the initiatives, the various trainings and webinars, all of these – only work if the system is ready to change. You can do as many training sessions as you want, but if the system isn’t ready to change, it won’t. You need leadership buy-in. Leadership has to spearhead the effort and support the other individuals leading it.

Subsequently, having a robust plan and ensuring that at every point in the work you are looking through a health equity lens. That means you need to have a diversity in perspective and at the table at all the discussions.

Trinity Health Of New England utilizes Martti, Cloudbreak’s video and audio interpreting service.  They have also leveraged their Martti carts to provide language access at their COVID vaccination locations. Now, their new Cisco Webex integration with Martti will help extend the impact of their language services even further. To learn more about how you can expand your language access with Cloudbreak, read about our integrations here.