For almost a year, credible accusations of institutional racism have battered Seattle Children’s hospital. If the hospital hopes to rebuild trust with the community, it must come clean about what truth exists in those accusations by releasing a recently completed investigation into them.
Racism at the hospital came to the fore late last year when Dr. Ben Danielson resigned as medical director of the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, an arm of Seattle Children’s.
Danielson was a beloved pediatrician. His abrupt departure was a blow to the many families that relied on his compassionate care at the clinic, which primarily serves families from communities of color and those with low income. It also was a stinging rebuke of Seattle Children’s because Danielson cited institutional racism as the reason he quit.
Seattle Children’s hired Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general under President Barack Obama, and his Washington, D.C.-based law firm, Covington & Burling, to investigate the accusations and recommend corrective actions. Covington submitted its report more than a month ago, but hospital leaders have refused to share it with the public.
If you hire a high-profile firm to conduct a high-profile report that likely cost a high-profile price, wouldn’t you want to share findings with the public? Not Seattle Children’s leaders. One might easily conclude that they are trying to hide something truly damning and avoid accountability. Alternatively, the report could have singled out specific leaders for egregious wrongdoing, and they now seek to preserve their careers and reputations.
The hospital did release the smallest bit of the report: a summary of its recommendations. The recommendations are basic, simplistic even. They set nebulous goals whose successful implementation will be subject to interpretation, not measurement. They insult a community that expected transparency and bold changes to address a serious cultural and leadership deficit.
The assessment committee charged with overseeing Covington’s work urged greater transparency, but the findings and full report remain secret. In contrast, Starbucks, which also contracted with Covington for an assessment, released its full report.
Without the baseline understanding of where things stand that the full report could provide, the public, patients and hospital employees will have no way to gauge what progress the hospital makes and hold leaders accountable if they fail. Seattle can forgive past wrongs if Seattle Children’s learns from them and takes concrete steps to ensure they don’t happen again.
“I do not believe we will achieve equity or movement toward justice for our community without the release of the statement of findings,” Urban Indian Health Institute Director Abigail Echo-Hawk told The Seattle Times.
Seattle Children’s has no legal obligation to release an internal document. It’s a private entity, not a government body subject to the state Public Records Act. Its foundation is a nonprofit that receives certain tax benefits and is subject to reporting requirements, but an investigation into institutional racism isn’t among them.
Even if it isn’t legally obligated, the hospital has an obligation to the public. By choosing secrecy, one of the most important and revered institutions in the region is delivering a gut shot to donors, patients, staff and the public. Secrecy will not make community anger and pain go away. Share the report and hope that healing can begin.