The Washington State Nurses Association joins the prominent individuals and groups who have expressed concern and support for Dr. Benjamin Danielson in his recent resignation from Seattle Children’s and the Odessa Brown Clinic over ongoing racist and discriminatory practices at Seattle Children’s.
Over his two decades at the Odessa Brown Clinic, Dr. Danielson has earned widespread admiration and respect for his unwavering commitment to advocating for and serving children of color and those living in low-income families. We at WSNA have been honored to work beside him on issues facing children in the health care system, and we are both saddened and inspired by his resignation.
As the union representing more than 1,800 nurses at Seattle Children’s, we have called out discriminatory practices there, with inadequate response from hospital leadership. Statements about a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion mean little in the absence of addressing on-the-ground instances of microaggressions, discrimination and racism like those Dr. Danielson and WSNA-represented nurses have experienced and witnessed.
The recent principled resignation of Dr. Danielson, who served as the Senior Medical Director of Seattle Children’s Odessa Brown clinic, comes after years of frustration. Dr. Danielson stated in a recent news article that he felt marginalized within the organization and witnessed a lack of support of other diverse leaders, resulting in termination or resignations. Leaders at Children’s who used racist language, including the “n” word and “japs,” were not held accountable – as they should and must be.
A similar inadequacy in response has been reflected in our work as an association. In recent years, the RNs we represent at Children’s have raised instances of discrimination and disparate treatment based on race, age and disability. They have expressed concern about speaking up for fear their experiences will be ignored, dismissed or will result in retaliation. As a union, WSNA has filed multiple grievances related to discrimination, shared concerns about the lack of Black RNs and those from other underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, and met with management to discuss issues of diversity, equity and inclusion – all with little result.
It is past time for hospitals to do more. WSNA calls on leadership at Children’s and hospitals around the state to work with us to address the issues of racism, equity and inclusion that infect our health care system. We urge hospitals to join with WSNA in examining nursing diversity data; strengthening protections in contract language; improving hiring, employment and HR practices; providing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training, and seeking to recruit and retain a more diverse pool of nurses.
While the spotlight is currently on Children’s, systemic racism and disparate health outcomes are embedded in our health care system. Research, including from the federal Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, shows that disparities in health care access and quality persist, and according to Washington State Department of Health data, the COVID-19 infection rate among those of Hispanic ethnicity and Black people significantly exceeds their representation in Washington state. Addressing these issues requires a more diverse nursing, physician and provider staff, as well as increasing diversity among hospital leadership. Creating an atmosphere that hires, supports and retains nurses and other practitioners of color, both on the floor and in leadership positions, is key to moving forward.
The public reckoning over racism of the past year must carry into 2021 if we are to make meaningful change. We deeply admire Dr. Danielson’s morally grounded resignation and ongoing fight for better health care for all, most especially ethnic groups and people of color who continue to suffer the impacts of unequal care. WSNA commits to continuing to not only look within at how we can move forward to address racism, but to advocate for the needs of our diverse members.
“I have been a nurse at Seattle Children’s for more than 30 years and believe deeply in its mission and the amazing nurse colleagues I work with. As a Filipina American and WSNA leader at Seattle Children’s, I hope to see Children’s better live up to its promises and potential in supporting diversity in those who provide care. As nurses, we are really good at advocating for our patients and families, but unfortunately, we fear to speak up for ourselves, worried about retaliation and the threat of losing our job or livelihood. Dr. Ben Danielson spoke up for all of us by resigning, and I can only hope leadership at Seattle Children’s hears his message by affording us the respect and safety we deserve to bring forward the difficult issues of racism and discrimination.”
– Edna Cortez, RN, WSNA Chair, Seattle Children’s
“As a Nurse Representative at WSNA, I have witnessed and filed grievances over multiple instances of workplace discrimination rooted in race, ethnicity and disability at Seattle Children’s and other hospitals. As a Black nurse, I have experienced firsthand the corrosive effect of microaggressions and racism in health care settings. We must continue this fight – not only at Children’s but in all hospitals.”
– Travis Elmore, RN, WSNA Nurse Representative