KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With health care front and center – alongside a push for greater diversity as communities battle the COVID-19 pandemic – scholars from one Kansas City program are ready and committed to the cause.
"If anything, honestly, it's reaffirmed and reinforced the commitment that I have in terms of this is exactly what I want to do and this was absolutely a great decision,” said Evan Bailey, a past participant in the Bluford Healthcare Leadership Institute. “It's moments like these that truly give us purpose."
The BHLI is a two-week experiential program in Kansas City for minority students. After completing the program, its participants, known as scholars, are placed in summer internships at premier health care institutions across the country.
Gaby Flores, director of the office of equity and diversity at Children's Mercy Hospital, said they have had a great relationship with the institute as a whole and Jasmin Guzman, who went through BHLI.
Guzman grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, and always wanted to be a nurse at CMH.
"To be a part of Children's Mercy, I honestly, I give it all to the BHLI program because they just created a really good opportunity for me as a brown person, as you say, as a Latina,” Guzman said. “So it’s been amazing.”
Just the fact that she can have casual conversations with Hispanic families she’s taken care of makes a “huge difference,” according to Guzman, a 2014 BHLI scholar.
"Working at Children's Mercy, you run into parents that this is probably one of the lowest points of their lives. They're very vulnerable. They're very scared. They don't know what's going on and these are English-speaking families,” Guzman said. “So you can only imagine what it's like for a Spanish-speaking family."
Flores said Guzman had the chance to shadow the chief nursing officer during her two-week internship, and once being accepted into nursing school secured a nursing scholarship.
“Now I think we see the culmination of our six-year relationship with Jasmin is that she's now a contributing, belonging member of our employee work force delivering great care to the kiddos," Flores said.
Bailey was in the same BHLI cohort as Guzman and is part of the 75% of scholars who attended historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
"Phase One of the Bluford Institute was what I'd say is probably the most impactful two weeks of my life,” Bailey said. “It truly opened my eyes up to be able to see that someone with sort of a business or different skill set might have a place in health care.”
During his internship, he shadowed and learned from Wright Lassiter, president and CEO of the Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) in Detroit.
"I saw in Evan a young man who just had a really fervent desire to want to make things better and wanted to learn,” Lassiter told 41 Action News, “and I really thought we could offer him some opportunities.”
Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, HFHS’s senior vice president of community health and equity, said the collaboration with BHLI has opened doors for those who might not have had another way to get into the industry.
"It was so key for Henry Ford Health System to partner with the Bluford Leadership Institute from the standpoint of providing an opportunity for someone, individuals, who may not otherwise have the opportunity and have the exposure," Wisdom said. "Evan knocked it out of the park."
To date, the BHLI has secured 69 paid summer internships nationwide for its scholars. One in every five attend the University of Missouri-Kansas City or Rockhurst University.
John W. Bluford III, BHLI’s founder and also the former president and CEO of Truman Medical Centers, now is using his experience and relationships to bring up a new generation of leaders.
"The long term goal, which is important, is to eliminate health care disparities among minority and vulnerable patient populations," Bluford said.
He also said the students’ experiences as people of color matter.
"They will carry that through their careers and be sensitive to those issues and make impacts in those areas,” Bluford said.
Most of the people 41 Action News talked to praised Bluford for his vision and commitment to create the BHLI, including Bailey.
"Mr. Bluford decided to dedicate himself to helping other people and putting other individuals that look like him, men and women, in positions to be successful and impact the health care industry beyond just the years that he was working at Truman Medical Centers or other hospitals across the country,” Bailey said. “So I think that his role and his legacy is going to be one that outlives him and that's something we should all seek to do."
Similarly, Guzman said she “cannot praise him enough.”
“He's honestly blessed my life,” Guzman said. “He's blessed lives of my friends who have also gone through the BHLI program. So, honestly, I just can't believe there's such a nice human being out there who would do all these things for us. He deserves all the recognition in the world."
The Kauffman Center, Stowers Institute and Polsinelli law firm in Kansas City all support the BHLI, along with other local organizations.
Those interested in the program can visit the BHLI website to learn more about the program, which has gone virtual due to the pandemic, and apply.