Charisse Fizer: AtlantiCare Embraces Diversity, Atlantic City


Charisse Fizer, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at AtlantiCare. Photo courtesy of AtlantiCare.

By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

ATLANTIC CITY — There has been a corporate awakening on social justice issued with many companies around the country in light of last year’s death of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis Police.

Companies like Airbnb, Cisco, DoorDash, IBM, Microsoft, Peloton, Reddit, Salesforce and Uber all took action to support Black Lives Matter, inclusive and other social justice efforts in 2020.

For AtlantiCare, one of South Jersey’s most prominent employers and leading healthcare providers, diversity has long been a mission. Charisse Fizer, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at AtlantiCare, told Front Runner New Jersey that diversity is not only a slogan or commercial, but also part of its business model.

“We can best care for each other when we understand our differences and listen to and learn from each other,” said Fizer, who also serves as vice president of clinical services at the hospital. “As a healthcare provider and the largest non-casino employer in our region, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to not only foster an inclusive, collaborative and culturally sensitive environment, but also to serve as an example to other organizations.

“We’ve long focused on this important work. We’ve served residents of Atlantic City and the region for more than 120 years. In addition to the diverse communities who live and work in Atlantic City and our region, Atlantic City is an international tourist destination. We can communicate with our patients in more than 70 languages. At our federally qualified health center in the AtlantiCare HealthPlex alone, our healthcare providers speak a total of 38 languages,” she continued.

Atlantic City is a majority-minority city, with African Americans and Latinos making up more than half of the city’s population. The region is also one of the poorest. Atlantic County ranks 19th among New Jersey’s 21 counties in per capita income.

Investment in Atlantic City and Atlantic County goes a long way in helping lift the community. Fizer said it is why AtlantiCare looks at a broad approach to serving the area.

“At AtlantiCare, we focus on building healthy communities together,” Fizer said. “We have long partnered with individuals and organizations to address all areas of health and wellness.

“The goal of [AtlantiCare’s foundation work] is to enhance the wellbeing of those who live and work in the neighborhood. AtlantiCare is building a $38.3 million Medical Arts Pavilion in Atlantic City. We held a ceremonial groundbreaking in March. The three-story, 69,700-square-foot building will significantly expand AtlantiCare’s resources for increasing access to care and addressing healthcare disparities,” Fizer said.

She added that AtlantiCare will also expand medical education opportunities for medical students and residents to proactively address the current state, and anticipated the national shortage of primary care providers.

Fizer said members of AtlantiCare’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council recently joined AtlantiCare President and CEO Lori Herndon as she signed the CEO Act!on for Diversity and Inclusion pledge May 27.

Herndon’s signing the pledge was another step in AtlantiCare’s focus on fostering an inclusive, collaborative, and culturally sensitive work environment and enhancing the care and services it provides for the community.

AtlantiCare’s human resources department has partnered with the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City to provide support and services for its members. Before the pandemic hit, AtlantiCare human resources staff met with members monthly to provide information about career opportunities.

The healthcare system also hosted a special screenings of the Black Men in White Coats documentary for the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City Teen Center, Atlantic City High School, members of the Friday is Tie Day mentorship program, and others.

Fizer said for more than a decade, it’s Employee Resource Group (ERG) program — more than 700 members across 10 ERGs — has focused on creating and sustaining an inclusive and engaged work environment where differences are valued, respected, and celebrated. AtlantiCare’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council, and its ERGs offer scholarship programs through the AtlantiCare Foundation.

These scholarships include the Legacy (Leaders Empowering Generations AtlantiCare Community and You), an annual scholarship for an employee of Black or African American descent to pursue a clinical or non-clinical career in healthcare. The other is the ALMA (AtlantiCare Latinos Moving Ahead), consisting of two annual scholarships to support Latino students who wish to pursue careers in healthcare.

“Prior to the pandemic, our ERGs had held eight annual in-person diversity events — with the last in 2019,” said Fizer. “This summit allowed us to reach our providers, staff and leaders virtually. The goal was the same as that of our previous in-person events — to increase awareness about the importance of understanding and giving a voice to all individuals. This summit, and the previous events, also gave us the opportunity to teach our staff about the difference our ERGs are making in the community and to engage them in this important work.”

The coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on the United States, particularly African Americans and Latinos. Front Runner New Jersey asked how AtlantiCare is planning on connecting with some of the poorest neighborhoods over the next year, especially in trying to get more people vaccinated during the pandemic.

Fizer answered, “Through the AtlantiCare Health Services Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) at the William L. Gormley AtlantiCare HealthPlex, we provide comprehensive primary, preventative and specialty services to people of all ages, regardless of ability to pay. This team continued to care for the community throughout the pandemic — including by reaching out to them to bring care and services where individuals live, encouraging them to visit the office, ensuring they had transportation to the office and specialists, and more. They held mass flu vaccinations and set up an on-site COVID-19 vaccination clinic. The care this team provides is centered on wrapping our care arms around individuals — many of whom don’t have the basic resources for communication and transportation so critical to getting services that most of us take for granted.”

She continued, “AtlantiCare also led a campaign to vaccinate people 65 years and older at the Atlantic County COVID-19 Vaccination Megasite, with a focus on vulnerable populations at risk of COVID and its complications. Through grassroots efforts of AtlantiCare’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), the organization reached out to members of the Black and Brown, Hispanic and Latino, and other at-risk communities to address racial disparities and break down barriers to vaccination. These included lack of access to technology and lack of information about the vaccine. Early on in vaccine availability, ERGs connected weekly with local community, faith-based, and community leaders. On one Friday in March alone, AtlantiCare’s chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer reached out to local clergy and spiritual leaders to offer assistance. Three days later, these leaders had shared more than 600 names of individuals who needed assistance with registering for the vaccine. Members of the ERGs and other AtlantiCare representatives called these individuals and scheduled them for appointments. Clerical leaders provided transportation to the megasite. This initiative served a significant need in the community. Additionally, AtlantiCare was able to connect with its community members on a very intimate level.”

Fizer concluded, “We’ve also expanded the hours of our Family Planning Clinic and plan to continue to expand hours and services once we relocated this program from our HealthPlex into our Medical Arts Pavilion referenced above (2022).”

Fizer said whether tackling challenges the community has with the pandemic, engaging young people or building up the community as a whole, AtlantiCare continues to show its commitment to diversity and serving South Jersey’s entire community.

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