Charles Redd, Berkshire Health Systems’ (BHS’s) inaugural Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer. Photo courtesy of Berkshire Health Systems.

Pittsfield — While Berkshire Health Systems’ (BHS’s) inaugural Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer has deep roots in healthcare and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it was a chance choice made in the 413 that may have unlocked the healthcare professional’s unfettered potential. After growing up in Boston, Charles Redd began working as a home health aide—caring for folks throughout the metro region—at the age of 20. In 1987, he moved to the Berkshires, where, after getting married and starting a family, Redd made the life-changing decision to pursue nursing. “It seemed like a natural progression,” the 1995 graduate of Berkshire Community College’s nursing program told The Edge, citing the experience as beyond his wildest dreams. “I never thought I would ever get a college degree, let alone become a nurse … but BCC opened that door for me,” said Redd, who credits the school as not only being supportive of his endeavor as a nontraditional student but also for spurring what has been an amazing journey in healthcare over the past three decades.

Redd spent the first 18 years of his nursing career forging a well-worn path between Hinsdale/Dalton and Springfield, where his colleagues at Baystate Health Systems proved instrumental to his later success. “They helped support me in recognizing that I had leadership qualities I didn’t think I had,” says Redd, whose capabilities were further cultivated when he took a second job as a per diem shift director at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington. When the Director of Quality position was created there, another of Redd’s colleagues encouraged him to apply. “I wanted to be a Chief Nurse Officer some day, and I felt the [Director of Quality position] offered a piece of the experience that was needed,” said Redd, who was hired in June of 2021. In the process of what he calls “doing the work,” Redd ultimately joined the Diversity Committee at BHS, where his first question proved pivotal (albeit unbeknownst to him at the time) to his future: Why don’t we have a Chief Diversity Officer?

“I just felt that was an important position that was needed internally for our organization,” said Redd, who—while unaware that the Board of Directors was already thinking of going in that direction—did not envision himself in the position. Once the position was created, it became clear that addressing the issue of health equity “by really looking at how our populations are health wise, and what [BHS] does as an organization to correct the challenges [specific to certain demographics]” was top of mind for Redd. After a grueling interview process, BHS hired Redd as the first Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer—the organization’s first full-time role dedicated to proactively developing and implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives that impact patients, employees, and the community—effective August 1, 2022.

Over the course of his 15-month tenure, Redd has been focused on a trio of arenas, the first of which centers on rebuilding community relationships. “[The past three years created] a separation between the community and healthcare,” said Redd, in a nod to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and various related lockdowns. He was been working to bridge that divide by meeting with organizations throughout Berkshire County as a means of stimulating dialogue. He has taken a closer look at using BHS pipeline nursing programs—like those for RNs and LPNs, medical and nursing assistants, as well as pharmacy technicians and respiratory therapists—to build a more diverse local workforce. “This is an opportunity for people, [who] normally wouldn’t have been able to go to school, to earn a full-time wage and get [their training] paid for,” said Redd acknowledging the robust array of programs available locally to all students, including those who identify as nontraditional like he did.

Finally, Redd has come face to face with the health of the community at large. “[Berkshire County ranks] 13th out of 14 counties [across Massachusetts] when it comes to the health of our [residents],” he said, pointing to various risk factors—from struggles with cardiovascular disease and cancer to a higher than state average mortality rate, one that goes hand-in-hand with the some of the highest overdose rates in the state when talking about Pittsfield and North Adams—as informing the big picture.

“We need to work together, the healthcare system and the community, to figure these things out and correct them,” said Redd of his biggest task to date, one facilitated by his lived experience. “I know these challenges,” he said, having grown up alongside two younger brothers raised by a single mother, graduated from BCC as just one of two Black students in his class, and lived in less-than-ideal sections of Pittsfield while working two or three jobs just to make ends meet. Today, Redd likens going out into the community to “going home.”

“[In this role], I am seen as someone who can help,” said Redd, who is largely received as someone capable of understanding what residents are going through—from hardships related to race, ethnicity, language, and economic status to disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity—which, he says, “changes the whole conversation.” If the past year has taught Redd anything, it is that he is poised to make a difference in the lives of those throughout Berkshire County, from North Adams to Great Barrington.

Evidence of these efforts will be unveiled next month when BHS joins health systems across the nation in implementing its Community Code of Conduct, a policy that communicates the organization’s staunch belief that safety and healing go hand in hand. “I really wanted to make sure that we did not only have the input of our frontline staff—[as evidenced by] 25 people from across BHS represented in our task force,” he explained, “but also that I met with the key community leaders to say: ‘This is where we’re going; I need your thoughts.’”

As Redd progresses on his journey, he continues to reflect upon and share much of what he has learned through his personal blog, Dignity Freedom Fighter, which he updates each week on Fridays. The title, coined back in July 2020, is an allusion to a book by Dr. Donna Hicks called “Leading with Dignity: How to Create a Culture that Brings out the Best in People.”

“[I strive to be] a person others feel they can talk to and can trust,” said Redd, who began sharing personal stories with his colleagues (while employed at Baystate Health Systems) related to the work at hand. In an effort to ensure others knew he had heard them, Redd used dignity to find a way forward.

In a recent post, Redd ultimately shared an outlook that has shaped–and continues to shape—his work in our community: “When you are involved in the opportunity to change another person’s life, there is no greater gift,” he wrote in last week’s message, one that routinely reaches Texas and beyond.

In the three years since launching his blog, Redd has had an epiphany of sorts: “I wasn’t doing anything significant, it was just the small things I was doing,” he explained, underscoring a foundational understanding that has changed him as a person and impacted his leadership. “Without that experience, I do not believe I would be as prepared to do the work I am doing now.”

Amen, Charles. Amen.


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