For Seattle-area families who relied upon Dr. Ben Danielson, the medical director of the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, the grief over his resignation is twofold: They lost a trusted pediatrician and advocate, and the reason he left is painful.
Danielson resigned in November, citing institutional racism at Seattle Children’s hospital, he said Thursday. The clinic, which primarily serves families of color and low-income families, is part of the hospital system.
Among Danielson’s concerns, which Crosscut first reported Thursday, were that 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, and that staff were afraid of retaliation if they spoke out. He contended a hospital administrator used racist terms several years ago while referring to people of color.
A group of local leaders — from King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay to Macklemore — have urged the hospital’s leaders to direct an external investigation and to discuss how it will address the concerns.
In response to the news, families shared their own experiences with Seattle Children’s on social media, including having security called on their children. Many shared fond memories of Danielson going above and beyond in providing care.
“I’ve receive a lot of messages of support,” Danielson told The Seattle Times on Thursday. “I don’t enjoy being in this kind of spotlight. The issues are really about the communities that need support and the systems that get in the way of that, which are present in just about every organization and institution.”
Seattle Children’s released the same statement it had provided Crosscut, an independent news site, when contacted by The Seattle Times, saying the hospital respects Danielson’s decision and is committed to equity, diversity and inclusion.
“The issues raised are very serious and we are examining them. The Seattle Children’s Board of Trustees is engaged and developing a series of actions,” hospital spokesperson Jennifer Morgan added.
The hospital’s psychiatry and behavioral medicine unit recently changed its policy to no longer call police in response to property destruction or behavioral issues. But Morgan said the change is the “result of anti-racist work that’s been ongoing for months” and is not a systemwide change.
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.
The Othello location was funded by local billionaires including Steve and Connie Ballmer, Jim and Jan Sinegal and Scott and Laurie Oki. The Sinegals and Laurie Oki were among those who signed the letter to Seattle Children’s CEO.
While the clinic has drawn money from donors, one member of the hospital foundation’s board said the clinic has not historically received the attention it should have.
Employees at the clinic agreed the issues were long-standing.
“I think our clinic is seen as a shining star, like if we have this great clinic in the community then Seattle Children’s doesn’t have equity issues,” said one longtime clinic employee, who asked to be anonymous for fear of retaliation.
But she said some families have felt discriminated against when they have to go to the main hospital. And the disproportionate use of security against patients and families of color has long been a concern.
“When you’re under stress at the hospital, you might not act like your best self,” the employee said. “In those moments, they’ll call security because you’re so upset. But the truth is you’re under a lot of stress and you need people to believe you. You need people to care about you. And they need to know how to handle the situation.”
Two other people of color also left the clinic earlier this year. The director of mental-health services was fired this summer, while Crosscut reported a nurse-practitioner supervisor felt pushed into resigning.
In reaction to Danielson’s departure, some parents said they were going to look elsewhere for care. Meredith Jacobson’s two sons had seen Danielson for 16 years, she said.
“He took the time to really get to know his patients and to treat the whole person, not just their symptoms,” Jacobson said. “I hate that Dr. Ben had to pay this high a price, but I really admire the example he’s setting. I’m also really angry at Children’s for not taking action.”
Danielson said he’s considering his next steps, which he hopes will be in Seattle.
“I want to figure out how to continue to be impactful and supportive of the communities that are beloved and that I cherish having the opportunity to serve,” he said.
Seattle Times columnist Naomi Ishisaka and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.