Amy D'Arpino Shares Importance of Creating Inclusive Environment in the Workplace
During Pride Month, Centene is shining the spotlight on some of its employees. Amy D’Arpino joined Arizona Complete Health in 2015 and is a Health Equity Specialist. She is also a member of the Arizona Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Council and a Co-Chair of the Innovation Committee for Centene’s Employee Inclusion Group (EIG) cPRIDE.
In the following Q&A, Amy discusses how her role focuses on advancing health equity and reducing health disparities, and the importance of creating an inclusive environment for team members and all those we serve.
Q. Tell us about your background, your career at Centene, and your current role as Health Equity Specialist, Arizona Complete Health.
A. I have always wanted to help others, especially those who seem to need it the most. I have been in the Health Equity Specialist role, previously titled a Cultural Competency Specialist, for nearly seven years at Arizona Complete Health and another three years for a different health plan. Prior to that, I worked for 15 years in foster care. In my role, I generate awareness about cultural need and educate about health disparities, supporting marginalized individuals, and federal laws pertaining to non-discrimination in healthcare. I also educate staff and providers about best practices to reduce disparities.
I am a member of the Arizona DEI Council and have been a Co-Chair of the Innovation Committee for cPRIDE since its inception.
Q. What is the most meaningful part of your job?
A. I am passionate about advocating for change to ensure inclusive, sensitive, and welcoming environments. It is important to me that everyone has an equitable environment where they feel valued, seen, heard, and where they may be their authentic selves without fear of how they may be treated. When people are free to be themselves without fear, they thrive. Whether in a work space or in a doctor’s office, if someone is respected, included, and validated, they are more apt to be more engaged, adhere to treatment plans, and flourish. I love it when change happens that directly impacts our employees and members in a positive way.
Q. Can you talk about the importance of advancing health equity and addressing the health disparities that affect the populations we serve?
A. To advance health equity, we must do a deep dive into the root causes of the health disparities that affect the populations we serve and take actions that will help communities prosper. Our purpose is transforming the health of the community, one person at a time. When we cater services to individuals and meet them where they are, we make an impact. We may reduce or eliminate a disparity risk for an individual, and when we help one person, then another and another, soon the community should thrive. When one community thrives, then another and another, eventually the county thrives, then the state as a whole thrives, and state by state, the nation thrives. People deserve every opportunity to live healthier and happier lives.
Q. Who influenced you most during your career and why?
A. I have learned from many supervisors but vulnerable and marginalized individuals have influenced me the most, as well as my daughter. I have always been an advocate. I have heard many stories of people who have struggled and who have been treated horribly because of who they are, and it angers me and motivates me to help.
In addition, my daughter is transgender and has experienced maltreatment as a result. She has more hoops to go through to get the care she needs because she is trans. She always has to out herself to doctors, not knowing what reactions will be received. We have to educate practitioners about her identity and healthcare needs. We have had to fight for healthcare services. She has been bullied, and is often in fear of what could happen to her because of who she is. Especially with all of the proposed legislation that targets her very existence each year. I don’t want people to struggle like she has or like many we know have when seeking care, or in general, no matter how they identify or whatever cultural background they have. I don’t want to leave it up to them to continually fight for their needs and lives. I want to do anything I can in my role, with my privilege and allyship, to improve things, to educate, to help create a safe, inclusive, and welcoming environment for our employees, and to ensure our members get the care they need.
Q. How is Centene’s approach to DEI different from other companies?
A. Centene’s approach is extensive and offers many opportunities for self-development. In my prior companies, DEI wasn’t on anyone’s radar other than one diversity committee at one foster care agency. That committee offered educational opportunities but didn’t have the EIGs or the in-depth engagement of Centene. Centene not only talks about the importance of DEI but takes actions to support DEI efforts. Centene also has many DEI recognitions, including consistently being named a Best Place to Work by the Human Rights Campaign. I love how our EIGs offer ways to engage and many opportunities for self-growth.
Q. Tell us about why you became involved with the cPRIDE EIG.
A. When I heard the EIGs were being developed, I was excited because they offered an avenue to advocate for enhancements to the work environment on the national level — initiatives that could be implemented across Centene. The EIGs are a great resource for staff and they offer wonderful self-development opportunities. Many EIGs are also working on member-focused initiatives. Serving as Co-Chair for the Innovation Committee has allowed me to contribute ideas and lead teams that foster change across the company. I am thankful I have had the opportunity to co-lead efforts with cPRIDE and to make a positive difference.
Q. What is the importance of allyship to you, and how can employees be better allies?
A. Allyship is so important to me. Allyship is showing up for others. It can take many forms, and recent language around allyship includes being an “active accomplice.” I like that term because it actually takes being an ally to another level of taking action. I see being an active accomplice as listening to what is needed, asking how I can help, walking beside someone who may want the support, educating myself, advocating for those who need it, and taking action as applicable. The burden of education or advocating or actions should not fall solely on the person or community that is marginalized. It is important to use my voice to help others whenever an opportunity presents itself.
Employees can be better allies and active accomplices when they listen to what is needed, ask how can they help, continually learn and grow. Do the research to gain understanding about what is happening and what can be done to assist, seek out conference and learning opportunities that are impactful and that will provide tools to use in their allyship, and take action for change. Speak up when needed.
Some staff have been misgendered during meetings or conversations. I don’t want to put them on the spot and inadvertently out them to meeting participants if they are not ready. It is important that I asked them how they would like me to handle it when it happens — do they prefer I speak up in the moment to educate the person/group about their pronouns, or do they prefer I send an email about it after to the one who misgendered, or do nothing at all? Now when it happens, I know how to handle it, and have spoken up, so that the person doesn’t have to be the one always doing it or potentially not feel safe to speak up themself.
Another example is always speaking up for inclusive language. If you are speaking in general or writing materials, and don’t use language that includes all staff or all members, I will reach out and ask you to do so. It is important that everyone is included and when we use language that excludes, we cause harm.
You don’t have to belong to a specific population to join an EIG. You can join as an ally or to learn about allyship opportunities.
Q. What are your thoughts on the significance of Pride Month?
A. Dedicating one month for Pride isn’t enough. It should exist all of the time. I saw an infographic that stated, “Pride is important because someone tonight still believes they’re better off dead than being themselves.” Due to the historic rejection, discrimination, harassment, and violence against LGBTQIA+ individuals, many individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ have had horrible experiences, many don’t come out and live authentically due to fear of what may happen if they truly be themselves and many feel alone. That is tragic. Pride Month celebrates LGBTQIA+ communities and culture, highlights the impact of LGBTQIA+ individuals, focuses on the support of LGBTQIA+ rights, and generates awareness to let people know they are not alone. Pride Month creates much needed visibility, fosters connections, and ultimately saves lives.