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Michelle Happer [PHOTO CREDIT: Zach Stovall]

Michelle Happer became Lee Health’s newest system director of diversity on June 3, leading its diversity, patient care civil rights and language services. She has more than 10 years of health care, education, and community relations experience.

Happer has a Doctor of Education in organizational leadership from Nova Southeastern University. She also earned both a Master of Arts degree in communication and public relations and a Bachelor of Science degree from Norfolk State University. She is completing her Master of Arts in Health Care Law from Regent University.


What are the benefits of a diverse workplace?

Having diversity in the workplace creates innovation. It’s the building block of our community. We represent a great number of nationalities within our organization, which helps us to be more relatable and more progressive. We seek to hire people who are empathetic, who want to serve their community and make a difference.


What are the best practices for creating an inclusive workplace?

At Lee Health, it’s all about culture and mission. We consider ourselves to be servant leaders. We challenge each other to focus on seeing people as individuals. We have accountability for change. We have more formal training sessions for staff, and we take our message out into the community.


What are the challenges in achieving diversity?

It’s part of human nature to fear what we don’t understand, but different is good. We all want diversity, but it’s not as easy as it looks. Most people think of gender and race. It’s also about diversity of background and mindset. At Lee Health, leadership happens at every level. It’s only successful if everybody experiences a feeling of belonging.


What are patient care civil rights?

Under the Affordable Care Act, it prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in health programs and activities. If a patient doesn’t feel treated the way they ought to be treated, they can file a grievance. I would reach out to the patient and adjudicate the case. I work hand in hand with legal on the grievance procedure. Most are miscommunication, and some are teachable moments.


What language services are offered by Lee Health?

We have 10 staff language interpreters who work full time throughout the system. They speak Spanish, German, French and Creole. We also have live video remote interpreters for another 60 languages, including sign language. All interpreters are nationally certified as medical interpreters. It’s that extra level of skill in medical—and slang—terms, to make sure we know exactly what the patient’s needs are. We have staff members who speak a second language who only interpret for situations such as appointments, patient intake, patient instructions.


What do you hope to accomplish at Lee Health?

To move Lee Health up on the Forbes’ list of best places to work for diversity. We’re at No. 218 nationwide. I also hope to create our patients’ best experience when addressing their health needs, and to continue our mission of performance excellence. I have a great foundation, so it’s just building upon it.

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