Lila Moulton never thought she’d be front and center on the University of California, Irvine Medical Center’s efforts to increase diversity awareness.

“I was very shy,” she says. As nurse auditor and cost analyst for the center, she was more accustomed to quietly crunching numbers than leading a group. Yet Moulton overcame her shyness by focusing on a cause: fostering greater understanding of different cultures to enhance patient care.

While her efforts made her bolder, she’s still reluctant to accept her latest role – as the medical center’s nominee for the first Hospital Hero Awards presented by the National Health Foundation.

“I’m kind of embarrassed to be in the spotlight,” says Moulton, who attended the awards luncheon Nov. 10 at The Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles. Thirty-six honorees from medical centers belonging to the Hospital Association of Southern California were nominated for their outstanding contributions to their hospital’s service mission.

Moulton serves as co-chair and a founding member of the medical center’s Diversity Committee, spearheading programs that educate faculty and staff to people’s different beliefs, backgrounds and cultural practices. The committee represents 15 cultures and holds seminars as well as fun “patio events” featuring live entertainment, educational booths, food and traditional garments.

“We’re hoping health care providers will be more aware of other cultures, and this will transfer to the patient’s bedside,” Moulton says. “For example, they’ll understand when patients might need special diets or quiet time for prayer. If you know people’s backgrounds, you can serve them better.”

Recent events include a Filipino-American Friendship Day, Hawaiian-Polynesian luau and African American Juneteenth freedom celebration, as well as a multicultural “Harvest Festival Around the World” Diversity Fair.

“You can see the similarities between cultures at these events. People celebrate the same things in different ways.”

Moulton also is working with the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity to bring the UCI Diversity Development Program to the medical center; the 10-week certificate course features a different cultural topic each session. In addition, she’s helping OEOD develop a diversity health care Web site – a resource for staff, faculty and medical students needing information on a culture or help in patient understanding.

Born in the Philippines, Moulton moved with her family to Chicago in 1973; she graduated from nursing school at the University of Illinois, Chicago and joined UCI in 1997.

In 2004, she received the medical center’s ARISE Employee Award. Recipients exemplify center values (academic achievement, respect, integrity, service and excellence); she won for respect.

“At the medical center, we’re culturally diverse,” she says. “We just need to come together.”