As Kaiser Permanente's Vice-President of Public Affairs in Southern California, Diana Bonta is a strong advocate for health reform and improving access to health care. Prior to joining Kaiser in 2004, she spent nearly 35 years in the health care field, often leading the battle for better medical care for Hispanics and other underserved populations. Her remarkable career has earned her a selection as one of Hispanic Business magazine's Outstanding Women to Watch for 2008.
Today, she directs Kaiser's approach to public health through a Community Benefit division that just last year devoted $369 million to improve the health of underserved populations in Southern California.
"Latinos are experiencing a disproportionately high rate of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and asthma," she says. "At Kaiser Permanente, we have an integrated health delivery system. We are able to have culturally relevant and appropriate care that can focus on reducing the incidence of disease and optimizing wellness. Kaiser's community benefit programs partner with community organizations that enhance services to Latinos in need."
Managing the reputation of a region that has more than three million members not only means keeping track of government and community relations, media, and community benefits, but representing the Hispanic community.
"I was frequently the first Latina. For example, I was the first Latina nurse named director of health services. Many times I stepped out of my comfort zone into new challenges because it was important that a Latina trail-blaze in this area," she says. A typical day for Ms. Bonta might mean starting the morning with a flight to San Francisco or Washington to participate in legislative hearings on crucial public policy issues, or addressing a conference of foundation colleagues, or chairing a meeting on newly proposed laws or managing more than 150 health professionals throughout the Southern California region.
She is no stranger to leadership challenges. In her former job as director of the California Department of Health Services, she oversaw 6,000 employees. There, she worked with health officials from the Mexican government to reduce disease on both sides of the border. She also helped develop the first hospital nurse-to-patient staffing ratio regulations and the state's preparedness for potential bioterrorism.
Says the UCLA-educated Ms. Bonta, "Health is not a right in our country, but ... you can't be successful in your life without having [the proper health care] resources," she says. Life isn't all about work, though; "I love travel, needlepoint, knitting, my garden, reading, and eating out with family." Still, her devotion to improving health care has led to some long workdays.
"I pushed my limits at times. It meant personal sacrifice, long hours, and a sense that others were dependent on me and that I couldn't fail them."
Her resilience, which she says is a key to climbing the corporate ladder, has not gone unrecognized. Her extensive work as a Hispanic trailblazer in the public health field has led to numerous awards, including the American Public Health Association's Presidential Citation Award and the National Hispanic Health Foundation's Leadership Award.
Despite these honors, Ms. Bonta considers her greatest accomplishment to be something she achieved outside the boardroom. "I am most proud of being a mother of three and a spouse for over 30 years," she says.
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