‘They Rise, We Rise’ Clara Maass Medical Center Celebrates Diversity and Inclusion

Center for Latino Health 3 Kings Day CelebrationSarah Bonilla, Program Manager at the Center of Excellence for Latino Health, oversees a Three Kings Day celebration.


Diversity and inclusion are written in the DNA of Clara Maass Medical Center (CMMC). As the mission statement from its founding 150 years ago put it, “This institution is organized on broad principles, admitting cheerfully the afflicted of every class, nationality and creed.”

“We’ve carried that torch and are very clearly fulfilling that mission,” says Mary Ellen Clyne, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of CMMC. “It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you have; our doors are open.”

Sharing Cultures

Desyra Highsmith Holcomb, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at CMMC, oversees programs to address the respect, inclusion and engagement of all groups—patients, staff and the community.

For example, a new initiative called SPHERE (Sharing Perspective, History, Experience through Respectful Exchange) gives employees an opportunity to share their heritage and culture. “The entire hospital, and community members as well, join in celebrations to learn more about other cultures,” says Highsmith Holcomb. Caribbean Heritage Day, Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Pride Month, Women’s History Month and Asian Pacific Heritage Month are among the many observances at CMMC.

For patients, the hospital has ramped up the hiring of bilingual staff members, including security and front-desk personnel. Employees have also been trained to translate medical terms, so they can help explain conditions and procedures to patients who prefer to communicate in other languages.

LGBTQ Healthcare Equality LeaderThe hospital’s employee resource group, PROUD (Promoting Respect, Outreach, Understanding and Dignity), aims to include and support LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning) community members. In-house training ensures that encounters between members of the LGBTQ community and hospital employees are always sensitive and respectful. “Further, our LGBTQ employees know that they are valued for who they are and that they can be completely authentic when they come to work,” says Highsmith Holcomb. The medical center has earned recognition as an LGBTQ Healthcare Equality Leader from the Human Rights Campaign.

The Clara Maass Interfaith Advisory Council, comprised of local faith leaders, recently created an initiative called Faith and Futures to provide job readiness training.

“People who are unemployed are typically in survival mode and their health may not necessarily be a priority,” Highsmith Holcomb says. “We see employment as an additional way to improve the lives of those that we care for.”

In addition, CMMC has created the Center of Excellence for Latino Health to improve healthcare delivery for the local Latino community. All of these efforts are an integral part of CMMC’s role in the community. “There’s a saying that goes, They rise, we rise,’” says Alfred Torres, MBA, Chief Human Resources Officer at CMMC. “We are aiming for an intentional and holistic approach to creating the right environment so everyone can thrive and get better—one that allows us and our patients to practice healthcare the right way.”

LGBTQ Diversity and Inclusion at CMMC
(L to R) Jason Dotson and Ronald Berry of North Jersey Community Research Initiative with Desyra Highsmith Holcomb, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, and Mary Ellen Clyne, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer, Clara Maass Medical Center.