Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will lead an investigation into the policies and practices surrounding institutional racism, equity, inclusion and diversity at Seattle Children’s, the hospital announced.
The appointment follows the resignation of Dr. Ben Danielson, who cited institutional racism at the hospital at his November departure. A wave of criticism followed from local leaders and community members, many of whom shared fond memories of the pediatrician’s care at the hospital’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, and urged the hospital to conduct an external investigation.
Holder, a partner at Washington, D.C.-based law firm Covington & Burling, will assess Danielson’s claims, and recommend actions to Seattle Children’s leadership that will “accelerate the pace of our existing work to become a truly anti-racist organization,” the hospital’s statement noted.
Covington & Burling will work alongside Seattle Children’s assessment committee in its investigation, the hospital said Thursday.
“We’re grateful for the Assessment Committee’s confidence and take seriously the responsibility entrusted to us,” Holder, whom President Barack Obama appointed as attorney general in 2009, said in the statement.
Colleen Fukui-Sketchley, a member of the assessment committee, added in the statement that the hospital hoped the investigation would “allow the organization to deliver the best possible care in an environment that understands, respects and nurtures all patients, families and members of our workforce.”
“We take recent claims against Seattle Children’s seriously and believe they must be examined,” the hospital said. “We expect that Covington’s assessment will look at an array of systemic and institutional issues including the specific items raised in the wake of Dr. Ben Danielson’s departure.”
When Danielson — who now works in the pediatrics department at the University of Washington School of Medicine — announced he had left the hospital, he said he was concerned Seattle Children’s leaders did not address issues such as a lack of translation services or the practice of calling security against patients of color. He also contended that staff were afraid of retaliation if they spoke out. Danielson’s departure was first reported by Crosscut.
The children’s clinic, founded in 1970, was named after community organizer Odessa Brown, who advocated for quality health care for children in the Central District. Danielson had led the clinic since 1999 and oversaw its expansion to a second location in Rainier Valley, which is under construction.
“We have an opportunity, if we do this right, to be a part of creating systemic change at Seattle Children’s,” the hospital said. “If we achieve that goal, we will leave this organization in a better, and more equitable, place for patients, families and Seattle Children’s workforce.”
Holder recently led an investigation into Tyson Foods after a group of managers at an Iowa pork plant were accused of betting on how many workers would contract COVID-19. Holder found sufficient evidence to terminate those involved, The Associated Press reported.
In 2017, Holder endorsed Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan during her mayoral campaign. She served under him from 2009 to 2014 as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington.
Seattle Times staff reporter Asia Fields contributed to this story.