Our Journey to Diversity

1872 - The Beginning

Led by Mother Mary Odilia Berger, five German nuns arrived in St. Louis on November 16, 1872, in search of religious freedom, on a mission to do God’s work. The sisters believed that, with God’s help, everything was possible. When they arrived, they had just $5 among them. Together, they carried the faith and compassion that ultimately would lead to SSM Health.


Sister Mary Augustine Giesen and six other sisters left the congregation and traveled to Maryville, Mo., where they formed a separate religious congregation, the Sisters of St. Francis of Maryville, Mo. (OSF). While the Sisters of St. Mary worked largely in the St. Louis urban area, the Sisters of St. Francis worked in more rural areas. In 1898, following their work in Maryville, they established St. Anthony Hospital, the first hospital in the Oklahoma territory.


St. Mary’s Infirmary in St. Louis was rededicated as the first Catholic hospital for African Americans in the nation. It became one of the first hospitals to give privileges to African American physicians and to provide opportunities for African American nurses to practice their profession.

In the days of segregation, SSM Health ran a small, rural hospital in Dillon, S.C. In this hospital we had two nurseries - one for our black babies and another for our white babies. The separate nurseries reflected the times. Still our sisters were practical women. So at night, when the hospital reduced its staff, the sisters placed the black babies and the white babies in the same nursery. And guess what? The babies slept just fine.


SSM Health started tracking its diversity efforts to increase the number of women in leadership roles. By using quantitative measurement, aggressive recruitment efforts and internal coaching and mentoring of women, we increased the number of women in leadership roles from 37 to 50%.


SSM Health appointed a diversity officer to lead its diversity efforts. After analyzing the demographics of the communities we serve, we also created a formal strategic diversity plan:

  • Enhance our ability to meet the needs of diverse patients and customers.
  • Improve support and alliances with organizations whose missions call for rigorous pursuit of fairness and equality for all people.
  • Improve a work environment that rewards and recognizes excellence and attracts and retains the best people regardless of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, national origin, veteran status or disability.
  • Increase business partnerships with minority and women suppliers.


SSM Health created the Diversity Forum to enhance leadership skills and the career development of persons of color, different ethnic backgrounds and persons with disabilities. The Diversity Forum met to address challenges faced by employees of color, different ethnicities and persons with disabilities in professional and managerial roles. Members of the Diversity Forum also explored common workplace experiences, served as mentors, promoted and represented SSM Health in the community to increase a diverse patient and employee population. Finally, the Diversity Forum promoted the strength of differences and fully integrated the talents of all people to achieve our strategic goals.

We launched a pilot Diversity Mentoring Program. The mentoring program had two main purposes: to increase the number of people of color, of different ethnicity, or with disabilities, in the system’s professional and managerial ranks and to prepare these minority professionals and managers for upward mobility by pairing them with executive leaders. At SSM Health, everyone is seen as a leader possessing the potential to help the organization achieve great things. The mentoring program was designed to tap this potential. It created a support system to help provide opportunities to minority employees. When the pilot program concluded, participants told us they wanted another development program and urged us to continue to offer opportunities for professional and personal growth. Their feedback led to the next stop in our diversity journey, the Diversity Development Association.

2004 - 2006

The Diversity Development Association, a management training program, was created for members of groups that have traditionally been denied development opportunities due to bias and discrimination. This two-year initiative resulted in the creation of a pool of diverse SSM Health employees trained in the skills necessary for management and leadership. More importantly, it positioned participants for upward mobility and development and equipped them with the tools necessary to succeed at the next level of their respective careers. The DDA ended because leadership development of all employees transitioned to the newly created SSM University which facilitates the development of leadership throughout the system.


The Diversity Advisory Council was formed to advise SSM Health on the development and implementation of projects and activities to assist in meeting and/or exceeding our diversity strategic goals. The council also helps to exchange best practices information within the system to promote diversity and to provide exceptional health care services. The DAC was comprised of one delegate from each region and designated standalone entity of SSM Health. The diverse group of employees from various pay grades and professions throughout the organization acted as a “diversity congress” and served to support the mission, values and commitment to diversity.

To help our entities meet the established diversity goals, SSM Health created and introduced a new measurement tool, the Diversity Scorecard. The Diversity Scorecard brings all information together, challenges SSM Health entities to improve, and maintains diversity as a high priority issue. In addition to monitoring and measuring, we use the scorecard metrics to benchmark our diversity progress against internal and external efforts. The benchmarks enabled us to find best practices and develop new actions as needed to continuously initiate diversity improvements at each entity and throughout the system.


We established SSM University, an educational program designed to develop leadership at all levels of the organization. SSM University aims to help the system achieve its mission of exceptional health care services by helping to develop leadership throughout the organization. SSM University offers a wide range of programs, including leadership education for executives and new supervisors, continuing education for middle managers, as well as coaching programs. For entry-level employees, SSM University offers skills to help them grow and move into advanced positions.


SSM Health adopted policies and developed programs that foster diversity in the workforce. For instance, we started a program that encourages older workers to stay on after retirement under our nationally-recognized phased-retirement program. About 135 older workers did just that in 2007. We recognized traditional and non-traditional households by offering insurance for a legally-domiciled adult. In 2007, we were also named one of the top adoption-friendly employers in the country by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.


SSM Health was listed among the top 25 diversity councils in the country by the Florida-based Association of Diversity Councils, affiliated with PRISM International. The association recognizes best practices among US councils who are partners in driving a strategic diversity process within their organizations. We were also presented with HRMA’s 2009 Diversity Leader Award. Award criteria includes leadership commitment, education, alignment, dynamic, engagement, and results measurement. The association is an affiliate of the international Society of Human Resource Management.

2010 - 11 The Future

SSM Health’s 2010 annual diversity report marked a decade of reporting out to employees the many ways we celebrate diversity - not only in hiring and developing employees and managers but also in the way we work and collaborate with one another to provide exceptional care to our many patients. For SSM Health, diversity is both a moral and business imperative. If we serve diverse communities - and we do - then we must reflect that diversity. Our hospitals and patients are better off for having people of different races, ethnicities and experiences brought together to deliver exceptional health care day in and day out.

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