A Guatemalan woman once brought her 2-year-old daughter in need of immediate surgery to a Lee Memorial Health System facility. The presiding physician needed consent from the distraught mother, who seemed confused at the physician’s questions, which were being asked in Spanish.

With little time to waste, the physician and unit director contacted the hospital’s diversity office, which concluded the mother knew only bits of Spanish and primarily spoke Mam, a minority indigenous language. Staff tracked down an independent Mam interpreter who came to speak with the mother. She consented to her daughter’s surgery and the little girl was operated on that same day.

That’s a taste of the situations Lee Memorial, the largest public health system in Florida, faces regularly. Each year, members are exposed to more than 100 different languages, spoken by employees, patients and family members, says Jim Nathan, CEO and system president.

“It’s important to communicate effectively when talking about health care issues and to be able to understand the patients effectively as to what their needs are, so we’ve got quite a department of language experts and we have the capability to access languages for pretty much every language that comes remotely,” Nathan says.

It’s a significant way Lee Memorial embraces the colorful community in which it serves. But it’s not the only way.

The health system has created a network of clinics that partner with United Way to provide medical care for underserved, often minority, populations, in addition to coalitions such as Healthy Lee, which encourages people of all circumstances to live healthier lives through nutritional and wellness education.

But what Nathan says he’s most proud of is the health system’s internal culture of more than 12,000 employees and 4,500 volunteers. “We are clearly one of the most diverse organizations in Southwest Florida and have become more so over the last decade,” he says.

From 2005 to 2016, the health system has seen a 30 percent increase in African American employees, 14 percent increase in American Indian/Eskimo employees, 40 percent in Asian employees and 86 percent increase in Hispanic employees.

“We all bring something to the table and everybody has a challenge,” he adds. “I believe that we are all people and we should all work together to the best of our abilities.

“I’m just really proud of our staff and how they have embraced and recognized that it takes all of us working together to do a great job on behalf of the patients and families.”