More than 20 years ago, Maya Yuen walked through the doors at the old RIC building for the first time. She started her career here as a physical therapy student in our former Spine and Sports Rehabilitation Center (SSRC), was hired as an inpatient physical therapist, and then transferred into management positions throughout Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, most recently in the Pain Management Center.
In December 2022, Maya volunteered to join the I.D.E.A. Council — Shirley Ryan AbilityLab’s committee empowered to developing initiatives to promote a strong culture of inclusion and equity — serving the Training and Learning Subcommittee.
A short time later, she answered the call for an even greater responsibility to advance our diversity, equity and inclusion goals: becoming manager of the newly created Robert R. McCormick Foundation Center for Hope and Equity.
Read Maya’s personal story and her commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) — both inside Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and out in the community.
Why were you initially interested in joining the I.D.E.A. Council?
My mother and I immigrated to the United States from Mexico when I was 7 years old. My mom and I both learned the language quickly, but I recall feeling frustrated by the condescending way in which people, specifically healthcare providers, would address my mom due to her strong Spanish accent. She was intelligent and capable, but they did not see that in her. As a result of that experience and many others, I understood at an early age the importance of treating people with equity and dignity. It has always been an important value in my life. Over the years, I have gained a better understanding of my own privilege and have been motivated to find ways to use my position to help others. I joined the I.D.E.A. Council to leverage my influence and position, alongside my colleagues, to help lead meaningful initiatives. Specifically, I wanted to join the Training and Learning Subcommittee because I believe education can be one of the most powerful tools to drive change and develop understanding.
Tell us about the Robert R. McCormick Foundation Center for Hope and Equity.
Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is a global leader in physical medicine and rehabilitation, drawing patients from all over the U.S. and the world — but we also are very much a part of Chicago. Too often social determinants of health impact our patients after they return home. With this new center, we will be able to respond to the needs of our underserved patients on the South and West sides of Chicago — particularly Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) — with action and in ways that we can lend our expertise for the most impact.
The center has been made possible by a generous $3 million gift from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation in support of our Accelerate Ability campaign.
What are some of the programs the Center for Hope and Equity has planned?
The center was created with two initial pillars — “Resources for Patients and Caregivers” and “Pathways to Healthcare Careers” — influenced by our direct experience with patients. With this in mind, we have plans to:
- Provide low-income patients with resources for a better and safer integration as they discharge home.
- Assist individuals with physical impairments with employment and return-to-work services.
- Expose more disadvantaged students to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
- Recruit a more diverse workforce at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, drawing on candidates from Chicago’s South and West sides and examining career pathways and pipelines to employment.
- Empower the I.D.E.A. Council to promote a strong culture of inclusion and equity practices throughout our entire system of care.
Over time, the center’s goals and areas of focus will evolve to best support our community.
What motivated you to take on this newly established role? What excites you about it?
I am looking forward to collaborating with executive leadership, I.D.E.A. Council members, managers and employees across all teams to learn how I can effectively support them. I also love that the Robert R. McCormick Foundation grant focuses on developing health equity initiatives for our patients and the communities we serve. This allows me to continue to have one foot in patient care while expanding how we meet the needs of these groups outside of our walls. I have been fortunate to learn so much during my time at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. The thing that excites me most about this position is that I get to put that knowledge to work in a totally new capacity while still serving this great organization.
Do you have any background or training in diversity, equity and inclusion?
While I consider my expertise in the DEI space to be in the early stages, I am very proud of the preparation and experience I have obtained so far. As an adjunct faculty member for Psychosocial Aspects of Human Behavior I and II for the Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences Department at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, I have advanced my knowledge and training skills in the areas of cultural humility, implicit bias, microaggressions, sexual orientation and gender diversity. In December 2022, I completed the Leading Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Certificate short course through the Northwestern University Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences. Both of these opportunities have greatly enhanced my ability to identify factors that can hinder the successful implementation of DEI initiatives and I have gained the knowledge necessary to implement collaborative action plans to create change. I look forward to growing my knowledge — both formally and informally — over the next couple of years through my experiences in this role.
What do you most hope to accomplish while leading the Center for Hope and Equity?
There are many wonderful initiatives planned for the Center for Hope and Equity that will support patient equity as well as employee diversity, equity and inclusion. As one example, we’ve started partnering with the Care Management team, Vocational Rehabilitation team and I.D.E.A. Council subcommittees to address discharge services for our underserved, underrepresented patients. We hope to be able to identify patients who require additional support at discharge, and then offer them additional resources like job placement. Then, the great thing is, we’ll take a scientific approach to this program — we’ll evaluate the effectiveness of these interventions to determine if the patients’ needs were met.