At 70, Miami Jewish Health Systems embraces area’s diversity
By: Jeffrey Freimark
Chief Executive Officer, MJHS
Results from the U.S. Census Bureau are telling. Almost half of Florida’s 18-percent population growth last decade was fueled by Hispanics. Look deeper and you’ll find less-obvious signs that our state — and South Florida in particular — is becoming increasingly diverse. Florida’s black population grew by more than 25 percent, and the number of Asians soared by a staggering 70 percent.
Closer to home, Miami-Dade and Broward counties saw an influx of roughly 700,000 new residents from a broad range of ethnic groups.
The census numbers speak for themselves: We are becoming more diverse each day. Lost in the statistics are the stark differences about how people of different cultures interact, think, worship and — as I have come to learn — view the delivery of healthcare.
When I returned to Miami as CEO of Miami Jewish Health Systems in 2008, after 11 years away from South Florida, I knew my former home was going to be a much different, much more diverse place than it was when I left.
No amount of preparation would ready me for navigating the demographic shifts that had taken place. I quickly realized that viability as a healthcare system meant adapting the services we offer, where we deliver them, how we communicate our mission and the relationships we forge in the community — all with an eye toward diversity.
Miami is one of the costliest places in the country in which to provide quality healthcare, and the added complexities from operating in a multicultural region present an extra layer of unique — and often daunting — challenges.
At Miami Jewish Health Systems, we have overcome this by embracing diversity — uniting people of varying faiths, ethnicities and beliefs around the common goal of enriching lives in our community.
Now 70 years removed from our origins as a nursing home serving a Jewish population on Miami Beach, we are broadening our geographic focus into new neighborhoods such as Hialeah and expanding our services. Equally significant, we openly discuss issues in diversity among our leadership and staff, in our facilities and across our patient base.
Examples abound. Stroll our Miami campus and you’ll encounter Hispanic residents interacting with employees of Caribbean and Asian descent; last year we organized a staff-led symposium about multicultural perceptions regarding aging. Our 2010 Christmas party paired Haitian children with Jewish residents of our independent living center. Following last year’s tragic earthquake, Cuban-American employees mobilized resources to assist their stricken Haitian colleagues.
At the same time, our multicultural leadership collaborates regularly with representatives of South Florida’s ethnic groups, including doctors, clergy of all faiths and social workers. This takes place against the backdrop of an organization built with the support of a predominantly Jewish philanthropic base whose fastest growing donor support group is now made up of Hispanics.
We place tremendous value on the contrasts that define our organization. Diversity is in our DNA, and the sensitivities that come with it guide many of the day-to-day decisions we make.
There is a lesson here. Cultural differences present opportunities to shift — and in many cases, improve — the way we think and interact. Seeing the world through different lenses provides a much broader, and ultimately clearer, view.
Miami has many “pluses,” but three years after returning home, I now realize that diversity is among our community’s most valuable traits. Fortunately, it’s an asset becoming more plentiful with time.
Jeffrey Freimark is the president and CEO of Miami Jewish Health Systems, one of the largest healthcare providers in the southeast United States. Founded in 1940, the 1,000-employee nonprofit healthcare system treats 3,700 people daily across South Florida.