Roper St. Francis, one of Charleston’s largest employers with around 5,500 employees, is another institution striving to improve diversity in the workplace, even as it struggles with a discrimination lawsuit.
Jonathan Jennings, a black physician, is suing his employer for hindering his practice on the basis of race.
In a federal lawsuit filed against the hospital system in July, Jennings alleges that Roper St. Francis has denied him adequate work space and has sabotaged his ability to practice medicine because he is black.
Workplace diversity long has been a concern at Roper St. Francis, but in the past few years, the hospital system restated its commitment to diversity and inclusion, according to Melanie Stith, vice president of human resources.
It invited consultant Juan Johnson, a diversity expert associated with Furman University’s Riley Institute, to train Roper St. Francis employees across the organization and help set up a diversity council, Stith said. The council focuses on education, training, marketing and community involvement.
Lately, hospital officials have been developing a strategic road map in order to more effectively establish diversity as a priority, she said.
“We’re making inroads, but we can do so much more,” Stith said. Soon the hospital will hire a chief diversity officer who can help devise a comprehensive long-term plan.
Currently, 50 percent of Roper’s board of trustees are minorities and women and 30 percent of its senior management team are minorities and women, Stith said.
The hospital group is a founding member of the Diversity Recruitment Consortium, a group started by the Riley Institute that strives to counter South Carolina’s reputation as a political, social and cultural backwater.
The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that less than 4 percent of physicians in the United States are black. Less than 6 percent of doctors in the state are black, according to South Carolina Medicaid.
“There are so few, and they are so sought after, you’re fighting for their talent,” Stith said of minority candidates. “We have to be more creative in the way we foster the younger generations.”