by Jasmine M. Pulido
On Wednesday, Aug. 18, at 10 a.m., King County Equity Now (KCEN) hosted a community conference with speakers from a variety of local and state-wide Black-led organizations to make public their demands as an organizing coalition calling for Seattle Children’s Hospital (SCH) to compensate for harm done to Black people.
KCEN along with the Tubman Center for Health and Freedom, Black Community Impact Alliance, the African American Health Board (AAHB), and Surge Reproductive Justice are joining the growing demands for CEO Jeff Sperring and board of trustees chair Susan Betcher to resign from their posts as senior SCH leadership. Carolyn Downs Family Medical Center, the last Black Panther clinic in the nation, also expressed a desire to join the budding coalition during the call.
“I think you are going to begin to see Black folks from across the state getting to come together in alignment around this issue,” Candace Jackson from the AAHB said on the community conference call.
Calls for Sperring and Betcher’s resignations first started when the hospital decided not to release the findings from a $1 million investigation into systemic and interpersonal racism conducted by former Attorney General Eric Holder and the Covington & Burling firm. Washington State BLM Alliance (WA BLM Alliance), the first organization to publicly demand their resignations, is also part of the coalition. SCH released a brief summary of the findings after an outpouring of community backlash. WA BLM Alliance, KCEN, SCH employees, and nurses from Washington State Nurses Association all started petitions demanding more transparency and accountability. SCH employees held a silent protest and the Seattle Times Editorial Board echoed the desire of protesting SCH employees that the full investigation needs to be released.
The growing call for resignations by SCH leadership is also beginning to gain national attention.
“Both Jeff Sperring and Susan Betcher have demonstrated abysmal leadership, anti-Black racism, and have caused irreparable harm to King County’s Seattle Black community,” Isaac Joy, KCEN president, said at the opening of the Aug. 18 meeting.
The call to immediately fire Sperring, remove Betcher, and release the full findings of the investigation are only one among the five demands KCEN presented at the Aug. 18 meeting called “Building Collective Black Power in Healthcare.” The collective also wants (1) SCH donors to divest from SCH and redirect donations toward health solutions led by and accountable to the Black community; (2) SCH to transfer ownership of Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic (OBCC) back to the Black community; (3) SCH to provide funding for OBCC operations for the next 10 years; (4) SCH to fund Black-led solutions to health inequities by the end of 2021, including $30 million to Tubman Center’s capital campaign, $3 million to the African American Health Board, and 5% of SCH’s endowment to Black community to support Black health initiatives. Sakara Remmu, CEO and lead strategist of WA BLM Alliance, added that their organization wants the selection of the next CEO to be community-driven and for SCH to inject no less than $100 million into Black-led health organizations in 2022. KCEN sent out over 3,000 emails to the SCH ecosystem, including mailings to board members and donors, to bring attention to these demands.
In response to a question about how the demand for financial support directly relates to systemic racism within SCH, KCEN chief of staff Emijah Smith said, “[SCH] shouldn’t have these resources in the first place and [they] must be redirected. They must be redirected back to the Black community clinics and organizations that actually serve us.”
Dr. Ben Danielson, whose resignation from OBCC as their beloved medical director originally prompted the investigation, was also in attendance. He spoke briefly as a panelist in a virtual room with over 100 participants attending the webinar. Conversely, CEO Jeff Sperring and board chair Susan Betcher were not explicitly invited to attend. The KCEN press team wrote in the Q&A about their absence, “The time for ‘listening’ is long over and we expect them to be removed.”
Joy announced that KCEN would continue to maintain pressure on SCH by continually holding community conferences like this one, bringing in folks and organizations to stay engaged with the campaign, and putting forward their petition. “I think in large part, it will also [be] the community’s response [that] will reflect what Seattle Children’s does and their response to demands.”
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.
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