Pro-equity advocacy group King County Equity Now hosted a virtual conference on Aug. 18 in which Black leaders and community advocates demanded accountability following recent reports of racism and health care inequality at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the clinics they operate.
Racism at these health care institutions came to the forefront in 2020 when medical director Dr. Ben Danielson resigned in an act of protest against systemic racism at the Central District’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, a clinic originally established with the mission of providing equitable health care to the Black community.
In wake of Danielson’s resignation, Seattle Children’s announced an independent investigation into the institution’s practices and policies related to race, equity, diversity and inclusion that would be conducted by former Attorney General Eric Holder.
Now, after the investigation has been completed, the board of trustees at Seattle Children’s is refusing to publicly release the full report. After pressure from the public, a succinct summary of some of the findings of the investigation was released.
The document released contained one page of content with less than a dozen bulleted points regarding “Workplace Equity,” “Health Equity,” and “Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic” findings.
Some of the findings include: a lack of accountability impeding diversity, equity and inclusion; racial disparities in promotions, leadership positions and resignations; distrust and dysfunction in human resources contributing to an environment that “excludes and undervalues BIPOC workforce members;” racial disparities in when security is called on patients of color; and racial disparities in patient care that the hospital admits it has identified, but could not mitigate.
The document also claims that “Seattle Children’s did not adequately investigate or address a 2009 allegation that Dr. Jim Hendricks referred to Dr. Ben Danielson using a racist epithet.”
In response to the lack of transparency and accountability regarding the investigation they called a public relations move, King County Equity Now is issuing conditions and demands to the health care organization through an online petition.
Among those demands are the immediate firing of Seattle Children’s CEO Jeffrey Sperring and the resignation of Board Chair Susan Betcher.
Candace Jackson, founder and chair of the African American Health Board, called the manner in which Seattle Children’s handled the investigation and response to it a “slap in the face” to the community. She emphasized that the accountability-dodging institutional tactics used by the organization are not unfamiliar to the Black community.
The King County Equity Now petition also called for the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic to be “ceded” out of control of Seattle Children’s and under the control of the Black community as well as for Seattle Children’s to provide 10 years of operational funding to the clinic.
The petition also asked that Seattle Children’s invest $30 million in the Tubman Center for Health and Freedom capital campaign, $3 million in the African American Health Board to bring on leadership team and staff, and to invest 5% of Seattle Children’s Hospital’s endowment into the Black community.
Jackie Vaughn, co-director of Surge Reproductive Justice, said it is about a full reinvestment and redirection of funds into Black-led community programs.
Emijah Smith, King County Equity Now’s chief of staff, said the lack of funding to the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic violated the trust of the partnership between the community and the health care institution. She urged that funding be redirected into clinics and programs that actually serve the community.
“You must follow the leadership of the Black community,” she said.
Isaac Joy, King County Equity Now’s CEO, emphasized the importance of redirecting funding to Black-led organizations that can be accountable to the Black community. He said the issue of racial inequity in health care is not one limited to one organization, but rather a much larger issue.
“Our systems our sick,” said AyeNay Abye, CEO at Tubman Center for Health and Freedom. “They are making our community sick.”
In addition to the petition, Joy said supporters have sent around 3,000 emails to different staff and administrators at Seattle Children’s asking for accountability and equity measures.
“Hopefully they will respond to that and do the right thing,” Joy said.
Dr. Danielson spoke at the KCEN virtual conference on Wednesday. He said the desire for acknowledgment of the issue, recognition of the injustice and rationalization of the outrage is the “right” way for community members to feel.