Seattle Children’s leaders face continued fallout from how they handled an external investigation into racism within the hospital system, as some staff and community members are calling for further transparency and even the resignation of top leaders.
On Wednesday, around 100 employees staged a one-hour walkout on the main campus in Laurelhurst, calling for the release of the full investigative report. Protests were also planned outside three other hospital locations.
In response to the demand, Seattle Children’s spokesperson Jen Morgan said the hospital promised those who participated in the investigation confidentiality, and that as far as she is aware, there is no full report that has not yet been released. But Abigail Echo-Hawk, who was on the investigation’s oversight committee, told The Seattle Times there is a full report with more detailed findings.
“I believe that they should listen to the calls from the community and be guided by what the community wants to see,” said Echo-Hawk, director of the Urban Indian Health Institute.
It was the latest instance of public criticism against Seattle Children’s, the premiere regional pediatric medical system, in response to allegations of institutional racism in the wake of the resignation of Dr. Ben Danielson, former medical director of the hospital’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic.
Seattle Children’s hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder early this year to investigate Danielson’s concerns, which included disproportionate use of security against Black patients and a fear of retaliation among staff for speaking out.
The hospital came under fire at the end of July, when its board released only general recommendations from the completed investigation, claiming that releasing more would violate the confidentiality of those who participated. But after public outcry from staff, patients’ families, community leaders, local celebrities and donors, the board released a summary of the findings and detailed recommendations Monday.
Holder and his firm found that the hospital has struggled to address equity issues affecting its workforce and patients, and that “leadership challenges, insufficient allocation of resources, and lack of accountability have impeded Seattle Children’s efforts.”
Some employees, as well as unions representing health care workers at Children’s, are now calling for the release of the full report.
“It’s very hard now to trust the leadership when they say they’re going to lead this work,” said one employee who participated in Wednesday’s walkout, who asked for anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 120 people had signed a petition written by staff demanding the resignation of Dr. Jeff Sperring, the hospital’s CEO, and Susan Betcher, chair of the hospital’s board. The Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance has also called for their immediate resignations.
“The official findings are clear and damning; hospital leadership has been aware of the insidious nature of anti-Black racism and explicit bias and done nothing,” said Sakara Remmu, the group’s lead strategist, in a statement. Remmu has also written about her own experience with Children’s as a mother.
In response to the demands, Morgan said Covington’s review did not call for any resignations, that Sperring has made this work his top priority and that Holder’s firm will assess progress.
While the Washington State Nurse’s Association has called on Seattle Children’s to release the report, it discouraged members from participating in the walkout, as its contract has a provision against walkouts and work stoppages.
The nurse’s association also asked Seattle Children’s to send a reminder to staff about the provision, according to spokespeople from both organizations. The resulting emails, sent by Children’s executives on Wednesday morning, were seen by some workers as intimidating or insulting. They indicated workers could be subject to discipline and should “lean into” the hospital’s anti-racism work instead.
In communication about the protest, organizers said they planned the date and time to cause the least disruption to patient care, and they requested that participants work with leaders to ensure their units would be covered.