WSNA statement of support for Dr. Benjamin Danielson

Danielson statement

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