Now that Presbyterian Healthcare Services' new medical center in Santa Fe has officially opened its doors, people around here have at least a couple of choices for hospital care. To gain a better understanding of the two medical centers, SFR took a look at their board memberships, which are posted online.

Why consider the makeup of a hospital's board of directors? According to the American College of Healthcare Executives, hospital boards are the "ultimate authority" of the institution. They're responsible for ensuring quality of care for patients as well as the hospital's financial standing, two things the organization says are intertwined.

These boards also serve the function of evaluating the performances of the hospitals' CEOs. At both Christus St. Vincent and Presbyterian, a CEO is also a board member who acts as the board's representative in the day-to-day functions of the hospital. But CEOs don't have a say in their own board evaluations.

ACHE says a key goal of hospital board membership should be to adequately mirror the communities they serve, but rarely, if ever, does this happen. According to the latest survey by the American Hospital Association's Institute for Diversity and Health Equity, only 14 percent of hospital board members and 9 percent of CEOs aren't white.

The business journal Modern Healthcare reported earlier this year that efforts to increase non-white representation among hospital boards and staff were largely failing due to institutional racism.  Research has long shown cultural familiarity between patients and hospital staff promotes communication and understanding, leading to better health outcomes.

Race receives a lot of attention from institutions that track diversity among hospital leadership, but it isn't the only identifier that can affect a person's perspective. Gender, socioeconomic status and professional background can all play a role in guiding the direction of a hospital board's priorities and goals.

SFR asked both Santa Fe hospitals to arrange interviews with people who sit on their boards to discuss how much importance, if any, the hospital systems put on diversity among their ranks. Only St. Vincent made CEO and board member Lillian Montoya available for an interview. Presbyterian submitted a brief statement by email and declined repeated requests for interviews.

Both hospitals publicly feature board members' names and professional backgrounds on their respective websites.

According to SFR's analysis, there are nine men and six women on St. Vincent's board, including CEO Montoya. At least three appear to be on the board because of their affiliation with the broader Christus network and based in Texas, including Christus Health CFO Randolph Safady. Presbyterian has five women and eight men on its board, including CEO Dale Maxwell.

More directors at Presbyterian come from non-hospital backgrounds, such as construction and finance, but there appear to be more similarities than differences among the two boards: Both feature at least one practicing doctor, as well as multiple people with experience in health care executive positions.

Many are deeply connected to other influential New Mexico institutions: Presbyterian board member Jennifer Thomas, for example, is the chair and CEO of the Bank of Albuquerque. Another Presbyterian board member, Frank Figueroa, worked for the military contractor Lockheed Martin for over two decades, including as an executive at Sandia National Laboratories. And Christus St. Vincent board member Earl Potter, owner of the Five and Dime, "participated in the creation of the Legal Aid Society of Santa Fe," as well as the Eldorado Hotel and the Hotel Santa Fe.

For both hospitals, a plurality of board members are white men. A Presbyterian spokesperson wouldn't agree to an interview and did not provide information about any organization policies on diversity. At Christus hospitals, one out of three hires for board or leadership positions are supposed to be a "diverse candidate," an in-house metric that takes into account factors like gender, age, and professional background. The Christus network also annually reviews diversity reports for all hospital boards.

Montoya, the first Latina CEO at the hospital, says when the hospital looks at board vacancies, they'll first consider a person's knowledge and expertise before considering whether the candidate has "diverse interests or understandings [or] personal work experience that demonstrate they're comfortable working with diverse communities."

St. Vincent also provided SFR with a detailed summary of its 2,136 employees. There are 1,543 self-identified women working at Christus St. Vincent compared to 593 self-identified men; 1,053 identified as Latino and 828 as white, with 55 Native American/American Indian, 44 African-American, 46 Asian and 96 non-specified or more than one ethnicity. There is about a near-even split among Baby Boomers, Gen-X and Millennials, 739 to 699 to 678, respectively.

Montoya says diversity in lower level hospital staff starts with decisions and priorities made at higher levels. "The executive team is mentoring associates and minorities for leadership opportunities," she says, adding that she's currently mentoring three employees, part of a hospital-wide system to develop internal talent.

The Christus network also asks all its hospitals to identify as a priority an underserved "minority" population for increased outreach. This past year, Montoya suggested St. Vincent intensify outreach to immigrants living in and around Agua Fría Village. As part of the effort, the hospital hosted free health screenings at San Isidro Catholic Church—which is also where she attends Mass.

"If we weren't so focused on the acute awareness of how important diversity is, we wouldn't have partnerships in the community that reach down deeper into Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico," Montoya says.