Anton Gunn brings a wide range of experience to his role as chief diversity officer and executive director of community health innovation at the Medical University of South Carolina, where he wants to “transform lives and move the needle.”
Gunn recently completed a semester as a resident fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics and before that served as a senior official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, won election to the South Carolina House of Representatives and earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of South Carolina, where he played football for the Gamecocks.
His work as chief diversity officer involves a pair of concepts central to the identity of MUSC: diversity and inclusion. Diversity refers to the richness of human differences, including socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, language, nationality, gender identity, religion, age and other characteristics. Inclusion refers to active, intentional and ongoing engagement with diversity.
“Diversity and inclusion are both internal and external,” Gunn said. “How do we build inclusivity internally across the organization while recognizing that diversity exists outside of the organization?”
He answered the question himself: “We’re part of the community, and every part of the community deserves to be valued. Just because you’re not a patient right now doesn’t mean you’ll never be a patient. An important part of our role is to be a part of the community in every way, shape and form, so people feel a connection to the organization and we’re recognized as a valued part of the community.”
The other part of Gunn’s job, director of community health innovation, involves addressing the health of the community. He said it’s one of the things MUSC has to get right as an institution.
A patient coming to the hospital needs to come “for the right thing at the right time.” Statistically, he said, not only does this lead to better outcomes for patients. It also lowers health care costs.
Gunn was at the center of national discussions about outcomes and costs when President Barack Obama named Gunn regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Region IV, which includes eight Southern states.
After nearly two years as the senior member of that office, he was appointed director of external affairs in the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at HHS. Serving as a senior official in the Obama Administration, Gunn advised the president and secretary of Health and Human Services on public engagement strategies to introduce the Affordable Care Act to the country. Gunn gave more than 800 presentations on the act throughout the nation.
The lessons he learned during that process inform his approach to his work at MUSC. For MUSC to continue to succeed, he said the community must be engaged in the conversation.
“How do we continue to find ways to innovate, using the assets we have to deliver the best care, offer the finest education and conduct cutting–edge research?” Gunn asked. “The community has to be a part of that and population health has to be part of the discussion.”