For families in the Seattle area who rely on Dr. Ben Danielson, the medical director of Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, the grief over his resignation is twofold: you have lost a trusted pediatrician and attorney, and the reason he left is painful.
Danielson resigned in November, citing institutional racism at the Seattle Children’s Hospital, he said Thursday. The clinic, which caters mainly to families of color and low income families, is part of the hospital system.
Danielson’s concerns, first reported on Thursday by Crosscut, included that Seattle Children’s officials failed to address issues such as a lack of translation services or the practice of demanding security against color patients, and that staff were afraid of retaliation if they spoke up . He claimed that a hospital administrator used racist terms a few years ago while referring to people of color.
A group of local leaders – from King County Councilor Girmay Zahilay to Macklemore – have called on the hospital’s leaders to conduct an external investigation and discuss how to address the concerns.
In response to the news, families shared their own experiences with Seattle Children’s on social media, including safety measures for their children. Many shared fond memories of Danielson who went above and beyond in nursing.
“I have received many messages of support,” Danielson told the Seattle Times on Thursday. “I don’t like being in the spotlight. The issues are really about the communities that need support and the systems that stand in the way that are in place in just about every organization and institution. “
Seattle Children’s released the same statement it made available to Crosscut, an independent news site, when it was contacted by the Seattle Times. The hospital respected Danielson’s decision and stood up for justice, diversity and inclusion.
“The questions raised are very serious and we are examining them. The Seattle Children’s Board of Trustees is committed and developing a number of measures, ”added hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Morgan.
The hospital’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine recently changed its policy to stop calling the police in response to property destruction or behavioral problems. But Morgan said the change was “the result of anti-racist work that has been going on for months” and not a system-wide change.
Established in 1970, the children’s clinic is named after the community organizer, Odessa Brown, who advocated high-quality health care for children in the Central District. Danielson had run the clinic since 1999, overseeing the expansion to a second location in Rainier Valley, which was under construction.
The Othello site 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 the CEO of Seattle Children’s.
While the clinic has been withdrawing money from donors, a member of the hospital foundation’s board of directors said the clinic has not received the attention it should have in the past.
The clinic’s staff agreed that the problems had been around for a long time.
“I think our clinic is seen as a shining star. If we have this great clinic in the community, Seattle Children’s has no issues with justice,” said a long-time clinic employee who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
But she said some families felt discriminated against when going to the main hospital. And the disproportionate use of security against skin color patients and families has long been a problem.
“If you are under stress in the hospital, you may not act like yourself,” said the agent. “That’s when you call security because you’re so upset. But the truth is that you are under a lot of stress and you need people to believe you. You need people to take care of you. And they need to know how to deal with the situation. “
At the beginning of this year, two other colored people left the clinic. The director of the mental health service was fired this summer while Crosscut reported that a nurse’s supervisor felt pressured to resign.
In response to Danielson’s departure, some parents said they would seek care elsewhere. 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 treat the whole person, not just their symptoms,” Jacobson said. “I hate that Dr. Ben had to pay such a high price, but I really admire the example he sets. I am also very angry with Children’s for not taking action. “
Danielson said he is considering his next steps, which he hopes will be in Seattle.
“I want to find out how I can continue to be effective and supportive of my beloved communities, and how I appreciate having the opportunity to serve,” he said.
Seattle Times columnist Naomi Ishisaka and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.