In 2006, I moved to Seattle from the Midwest to complete my medical residency at Seattle Children’s and Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic (OBCC). I immediately fell in love. As the daughter of a Black man and Cherokee woman, I had always known I wanted to serve communities of color, communities that reflected the very same place I was raised. OBCC became my home away from home, and I still feel that way 15 years later.
My love for OBCC endures, but it has been put to the test.
OBCC was founded in 1970 to serve residents of Seattle’s Central District. Odessa Brown herself experienced being denied health care as a Black woman and fought to prevent that from happening to others.
Today, OBCC serves a diverse community of patients and families speaking more than 30 languages. We provide care to every family that comes through our doors regardless of their ability to pay. But OBCC is so much more than a clinic providing basic medical care — we provide essentials like diapers, wipes and food to families in need.
We understand our OBCC families and patients depend on us, and despite the pandemic, we have not closed our doors or reduced services. In fact, we have expanded our hours and took in an influx of Medicaid patients unable to find care as other practices closed to new patients. We are caring for patients and families who’ve lost their jobs, lost family members to COVID-19 and some who are housing insecure. We engage patients and families with a listening ear, a familiar face and big hugs when they’re wanted. Providing this special care is not just the right thing to do, it’s who we are.
While the challenges of the pandemic are many, the recent claims of racism at OBCC and Seattle Children’s shook many of us to our cores. Systemic and institutional racism are embedded in our health care system and continue to impact the Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) community. As much as I love Seattle Children’s and am so proud of the work we do, the organization is not immune to this reality.
Dr. Ben Danielson’s abrupt departure last fall was a deeply personal loss for me as well as for many who worked with him at OBCC and Seattle Children’s. When he left, he raised concerns about racism he’d experienced as a Black man at Seattle Children’s and policies that he believed allowed racism and bias to impact patients and families.
In addition to the sadness surrounding Dr. Danielson’s departure, there is a great deal of outrage among families, our workforce, the community and supporters of OBCC who rightfully want to examine policies and practices at Seattle Children’s and close any gaps that could lead to lesser outcomes for patients of color.
As interim medical director of OBCC and also medical director at Seattle Children’s Center for Diversity and Health Equity, that effort is exactly where I am directing my energy. This grave moment is a call to action.
That action starts with being available and accountable to the OBCC community through town halls, community forums and individual conversations. We cannot become the organization we must be without engaging our patients and families. Part of that includes building out our Parent Advisory Board to give greater voice to the needs of our families as well as the community.
It also means accelerating Seattle Children’s work to become anti-racist across our entire organization. Since the killing of George Floyd last summer, I’ve worked with my colleagues to create an Anti-Racism Organizational Change plan. The plan acts to eliminate health inequities that lead to different outcomes for people of different races and ethnicities. It acts to create a work environment free of micro-aggressions, discrimination and racism. In addition, it acts to recruit and retain a workforce that reflects the patients and families we serve. This work is already underway, including reforms to police and family interactions at Seattle Children’s, but I anticipate many hard conversations to come.
In addition to accelerating our efforts with that plan, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is now leading an independent examination of concerns that have been raised regarding institutional and systemic racism as well as diversity, equity and inclusion practices throughout Seattle Children’s, including OBCC. I look forward to their recommendations as well.
I want to speak directly to patients and families who need care but might forego treatment amid all the media coverage. Rest assured, we will take very good care of you and your children. I am confident you will get phenomenal care. As a Black woman, I would bring my family to Seattle Children’s without a second thought. The care that is offered at Seattle Children remains unparalleled in this region. It’s the right place to go, and we would truly love to see you and care for your family.
As we undergo these efforts, I am overwhelmed at times. Rooting out systemic racism is a daunting and difficult task. Knowing this, I am aware that despite the actions we are taking, fixing the system will take time. Change takes time. But my colleagues and I are focusing on solutions, fighting against racism and working every day to provide world-class care to every child who needs us.
Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic is here to stay. We are a community and one that will only grow when we open a second clinic in the Othello neighborhood. Ultimately, I truly believe that despite the pain and loss we feel in this moment, there is hope that we will come out of this stronger leading to better health outcomes and care for our kids.