by Jasmine M. Pulido
About 100 employees from Seattle Children’s Hospital (SCH) participated in a one-hour silent protest in front of the hospital’s main campus on Sandpoint Way on Wednesday, Aug. 11, at noon. Smaller protests occurred concurrently at the Autism Center, Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic (OBCC), and the CURE center. The protests follow the conclusion of an independent assessment into systemic and interpersonal racism at the hospital, conducted by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Covington & Burling firm, and the initial decision by SCH to only release a summary of the recommendations from the investigation, not the findings. Following public outcry, SCH’s board of trustees released 11 main findings and detailed recommendations earlier this week, but community members say much more needs to be done.
The investigation was originally prompted after Dr. Ben Danielson, medical director at OBCC, resigned last November. After 20-plus years of service, Danielson cited multiple instances of racism he either experienced or witnessed as a medical provider at the hospital.
On Aug. 9, CEO Jeff Sperring and board chair Susan Betcher each released letters disclosing the summary of 11 findings statements as well as the detailed recommendations of Covington & Burling’s report. Yet despite releasing new pertinent information from the report, multiple calls for the resignation of the CEO and board chair are still being made based both on the premise that information was initially withheld to begin with under the guise of confidentiality and the stark findings of the investigation. Washington State BLM Alliance recently started a petition demanding both the resignation of SCH leadership as well as the release of the full report written by Covington & Burling.
SCH employees originally planned a walkout to protest the decision to withhold the findings of the Covington & Burling investigation. However, following the release of the 11 findings, SCH employees continued their plans to protest. Employees want complete transparency by having access to the full report including the names of institutional leaders who perpetrated racism at Seattle Children’s. SCH employees have also demanded public apologies to be issued for the harm done to Danielson and the SCH community, consistent with recommendations made for leadership within Covington & Burling’s report.
“The purpose of the protest was to demonstrate to the public/community and our patients/families that we stand with them in advocating for Transparency and Accountability (whatever that may look like),” an anonymous SCH employee wrote in an email to the Emerald. “We are trying to distance ourselves from the racism perpetuated by the hospital leadership, since we often feel complicit in that by just continuing to work at this hospital. We want to show the BIPOC community that there are staff who are on their side and that patients and families will continue to come first to us.”
On Wednesday, Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) sent an email to SCH nurses in support of “complete transparency and the release of the full report,” acknowledging that nurses were entitled to take part in the walkout as citizens off-campus and away from the hospital on non-work time. However, the letter also warned in bold that any nurse who participated in the planned walkout during work hours could “be subject to retaliatory action by the employer, including immediate dismissal from employment,” citing violation of Article 19, titled “Uninterrupted Patient Care,” in the 2020–2021 WSNA union contract.
Emails by SCH leadership were sent to all staff inviting them to commit to anti-racist work instead of a walkout. The emails similarly claimed that disrupting patient care was not protected under federal labor law activity and violated union contracts. Middle management were advised to not release employees or facilitate participation should any of their staff choose to engage in the walkout. Both emails to employees and middle management ended with the statement: “A ‘silent protest’ does not move our anti-racism work forward. Real action is required and we urge everyone to unite in our journey toward anti-racism and more equitable outcomes.”
In response to leadership’s claim that a walkout would result in “disruption” in patient care, an SCH employee told the Emerald the walkout was intentionally planned during the lunch hour when many outpatient clinicians would not have patients. Moreover, the purpose was to ultimately advance patient care for patients/families who have been continually and historically marginalized by the racism perpetuated by SCH. “History is littered with examples of institutions regulating how those they wield power over can and cannot express themselves; inherent in their response is the fear that our expression will reallocate that power,” the SCH employee replied.
Due to the Article 19 constraints outlined in their WSNA contract, SCH nurses did not walkout and instead chose to start a petition in solidarity with the other SCH employees’ protest. According to 2020 SCH stats, WSNA nurses make up 21% of total active employees. The SCH nurses’ petition calls for leadership to release the full report from the Covington & Burling investigation. It differs, however, in that it additionally calls for “Seattle Children’s staff members [to] be included in the task force working to develop an action plan to address the recommendations approved by the Board.”
The internal task force has 21 members and includes an assemblage of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee members, medical directors, HR representatives, and hospital VPs. SCH leadership comprises an overwhelming majority of the task force. There will be no OBCC/SCH patient representatives or on-the-ground employees — the people who have been most impacted by the hospital’s systemic and interpersonal racism. SCH 2020 stats show out of 377,961 annual patient visits, OBCC made up 18,650 of those visits, ranking third out of the 10 regional SCH clinics established.
Upon reviewing the list of task force members, Danielson wrote to the Emerald in an email, “The task force has a number of HR people on it, including the dept’s leader. Distrust of HR was revealed as a finding in the Covington Report, so why will HR have such a prominent place in the task force?” The fourth finding of the Covington & Burling report, under “Workplace Equity,” states, “Seattle Children’s culture of conflict avoidance and failure to address microaggressions, combined with widespread distrust in the Human Resources function, contributes to an environment that excludes and undervalues BIPOC workforce members.”
According to Sperring’s Aug. 9 letter, members of the task force were nominated and invited to work directly with the Executive Leadership Team (ELT) to create an action plan with public-facing outcomes to address Covington’s findings and recommendations. Details of the process used to assemble the task force have not been made transparent to the SCH community. The ELT were tasked with establishing the task force as directed by the SCH board of trustees.
“I can’t believe that there will be no community representation on it (and I don’t mean privileged community members who don’t have any relevant lived experience, I mean community members who face the kind of discrimination that happened with those code purple security actions),” Danielson wrote. “I don’t know how we should trust hospital leaders who actively suppressed information just a week ago to carry out an honorable process with this task force.”
Jasmine M. Pulido (she/her/siya) is a Filipina American writer-activist and small business owner living in Seattle. She’s currently pursuing her Master of Arts degree in Social Change.
📸 Featured Image: Silent protest on Aug. 11, 2021, outside of Seattle Children’s Hospital’s (SCH) main campus in Sandpoint. (Photo: Alex Garland)
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