CHICAGO — The numbers are newsworthy: Minorities make up 31 percent of patients nationally, up from 29 percent in 2011. According to the Census Bureau, minorities now make up 37 percent of the U.S. population. Yet, in two critical health care-related areas, growth in minority representation is not keeping pace with demographic changes: Just 14 percent of hospital board members and 12 percent of executive leadership are monorities. Additionally, only 17 percent of first and midlevel management jobs are filled by minorities, up from 15 percent in 2011, according to a survey issued today by the Institute for Diversity in Health Management and the Health Research & Educational Trust. Find the survey at Equity of Care.

Attendees at IFD's National Leadership and Education Conference, which started yesterday and concludes today in Chicago, got a sneak peak at the results and several speakers lamented the slow progress health care organizations were making. The survey indicates that the percentage of hospitals that use patient demographic data to identify disparities of treatment or outcomes rose just slightly to 22 percent in 2013 from 20 percent in 2011. Yet, the percentage of hospitals collecting the data stood at 95 to 97 percent, depending on the category. "You could call that the care gap," said Richard Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, during the opening presentation.

"We are indeed making some progress, but when we look at the numbers, we ask, 'Why is it going so slowly?' " Richard de Filippi, chair of the IFD board, added during the kick-off session (be sure to check out Monday's H&HN Daily for a more detailed video interview with de Filippi).

Attendees were also provided with a lesson in economics that sought to demonstrate why it's vital to improve education if America expects to remain the world economic leader. "The real wealth is in knowledge," said Leonard Greenhalgh, professor of management at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business. Given that the United States is projected to be a majority-minority nation by 2043, it's imperative that the disparities in education between minorities and whites be reduced.

Greenhalgh issued a call to action in a talk that was warmly received by many who spontaneously clapped or cheered at some of his statements. "I don’t want you to get depressed," Greenhalgh said [though I did], "I want you to get militant on some of these issues," [which I didn't and likely won't].

Despite the sobering start to the meeting, there was a lot of emphasis on moving forward. Representatives of three associations of minority health care managers outlined their plans for boosting diversity in hospital management, efforts that include an increased emphasis on local networking and cooperative efforts among different interest groups. Speakers included representatives from associations of Asian, black and Hispanic health care managers. The minority and general leadership groups are trying to create local caucuses and forums that make it easier for people to connect outside of their organization. Panelist Nicholas Tejeda, board member of the National Forum for Latino Healthcare Executives and CEO of Doctors Hospital of Manteca, part of Tenet California, described a private networking forum he sat in on recently. "I went into that room a skeptic and came out a huge fan," Tejeda said.

Amid all the challenges, advocates for management diversity and equity of care need to keep the issue front and center with current managers, said panelist Deborah Bowen, president and CEO of the American College of Healthcare Executives.

With the changes taking place in the industry, it's easy for hospital leaders to get distracted by other issues, she said.

Ultimately, the national conversation needs to move beyond diversity in management, said Fred Hobby, IFD president and CEO. "We have to move beyond [the topic] of diversity and ensure we're providing equitable care for all our patients."

Look for additional coverage on the issue next week. Have something to say on the subject? Find me via email, Twitter or Google+.