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Women's Lifestyle Magazine

Everyday Athena: Tania Bermejo, Spectrum Health Healthier Communities

This is the fifth chapter in a series spotlighting members of our community who epitomize the Athena standards and live by its principles. Readers will come to know these women, the companies they are representing and the forward thinking employers who have a commitment to elevating women and fairly compensating those women for their contributions in their workforce.

Tania Bermejo, Spectrum Health Healthier Communities

Athena Principle: Giving Back

Women’s LifeStyle Magazine: Tell us about your work at
Spectrum Health.

Tania Bermejo: I oversee a team in Healthier Communities. And if you’re not familiar with Healthier Communities, we do prevention and education of disease with a health equity focus. We do pretty amazing work. Before COVID-19, we were doing cardiovascular prevention and diabetes prevention because if you look at the Kent County data, there’s a huge disparity between acquiring diabetes and cardiovascular disease, especially for black and brown communities. That’s an issue that we need to systemically change internally and externally. So that has been our work with making sure we are tapping into the community, making sure we have resources, making sure people have access to those resources, and making sure we look at the person as a whole and not just a metric.

We know that health is more than that. There are social determinants of health. More than 50 percent of your health is determined by your zip code. We have been doing a targeted approach on zip codes like 49507 and 49503 because we see that overall social determinants of health increased by the zip code you live in. Now, diabetes and cardiovascular disease were my pre-COVID-19 focus.

Now with COVID and the disparities we have seen, we have been challenged to pivot, to make sure we have resources and that people know about us and that they feel comfortable calling or mainline and making sure we have Spanish speaking providers on our team. The average system, a provider maybe has six minutes with a patient, but we challenge the health care model to provide any time between an hour if needed, with our providers.

What are some of the biggest changes you have seen over those eight years?

TB: Our department is very, very unique in that we have always kind of had a framework of community first, and that framework has not really been popular until recently. I feel way more like excited than ever because now people are paying attention not only in health systems, but all throughout. That is helping us ask, “Hey, health systems, what are you truly doing for the community?” Because it should start in the community. But we have such a challenging, sick model, and that’s not going to go away anytime soon because we we’re challenging this monster that’s the sick model that creates revenue. Wow can we change that narrative of putting community first and then set up the framework. It’s going to take a while. But I’m very excited that compared to eight years ago, we were not having this popular conversation, but now we are.

WLM: Tell me about why the Athena principle of giving back resonates with you. You love what you do, and it’s directly tied to improving the lives of others on an individual level but also a generational and community level. 

TB: I feel like we all should give back because, well, I’m not here in a vacuum. I’m here because other people have placed growth in me and wisdom in me. Every day I want to make sure that I leave this world a better one. We all should, especially if we have capacity and knowledge. I feel like that giving back is my social responsibility. And not in a way of, “I am giving you this, so now I feel better.” To me, giving back is actually listening. What does the other person need? I could give you this is and say, “here you go!” But actually, that is just going to make me feel better. Instead, ask, “Do you want this?” And then give. think giving back is up bilateral communication that puts servant leadership first as a listening first to the other person.

WLM: One of the things we are seeing with COVID is an exposing of inequities, and people wanting to help. What advice do you have for people who do want to help and give back, but to do so in the correct way that benefits the recipient?

TB: All of these disparities have existed. I think what COVID has done is unveiled it, in a way. It has forced people to look at it, which can be seen as a good thing. The thing is, when you are forced to look at it, it comes down to what are you going to do about it? You are given this opportunity to analyze it and look at it, and that is when the real leadership comes out. This also has to be an ongoing analysis of processes that happens and make sure to ask, “who am I serving? With what purpose?”