by Edna Cortez
I love working at Seattle Children’s as a nurse. I have been at the hospital for over 30 years in various areas, and I love the mission and the patients and the families.
But as a Filipina nurse who has been engaged at the hospital in issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Seattle Children’s is still missing the mark on many levels.
Billboards located in South Seattle advertising the opening of the Seattle Children’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic in Othello, for example, showed a white man examining a young boy named Yoskar.
South Seattle neighborhoods average 69% People of Color, according to data from the City of Seattle. And the Odessa Brown Clinic was founded by and named for a Black woman who wanted a clinic to serve that very community in the Central District.
Brown persuaded the Model Cities Program to include a provision for the clinic and the clinic was opened in 1970. The Model Cities Program was part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and War on Poverty.
The clinic is rooted in Black activism and the hopes of lessening pediatric health inequality.
Dr. Ben Danielson, the beloved African American director of the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, was a resident when I first started at Children’s. When he resigned in December 2020 citing numerous racist incidents at Seattle Children’s, we expected the hospital to pay attention and address the problems in the culture there.
The hospital commissioned former Attorney General Eric Holder’s firm to investigate Dr. Danielson’s assertions of racism, which resulted in the Covington Report.
The hospital allowed staff to talk to lawyers on campus about the report. However, only snippets of the report were released. This comes after the resignation of members of the hospital’s board of directors and community activists who had been part of the committee tasked to review the Covington Report.
The hospital’s handling of Dr. Danielson’s departure and the Covington Report left many of us with the sense that they were trying to “manage” the situation, not looking at their role in systemic racism.
And there have been other missteps since.
The hospital announced Juneteenth was going to be a holiday for most hospital staff, but not for any of the unionized workers. In exchange for union workers to also receive Juneteenth, hospital management attempted to renegotiate other provisions of the contract. It left a bad taste in our mouths.
To be fair, the hospital has made some solid efforts. For example, the hospital is holding a weeklong Nurse Camp to encourage high school students of color to become nurses.
However, the fact remains that out of nearly 1,700 nurses currently working at Seattle Children’s, only 13 are Black. That is not representative of the communities we serve nor the number of licensed Black nurses in the area. Nurses have asked repeatedly why this is the case — other area hospitals have far higher numbers of Black nurses employed — and the hospital shrugs in response.
Seattle Children’s is not walking the walk.
The hospital not only needs to engage greater racial diversity at every level — signage, staffing, meetings, leadership — it needs to understand the part it plays in systemic racism and make substantial changes and amends.
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Edna Cortez has been a registered nurse at Seattle Children’s since 1990 and is cochair of the Washington State Nurses Association at her hospital.
📸 Featured Image: Billboards located in South Seattle advertising the opening of the Seattle Children’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic in Othello showed a white man examining a young boy named Yoskar. (Photo: Bobbi Nodell/WSNA)
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