Workers urge Minnesota hospital leaders to address 'widespread and entrenched' racism

Workers at several Twin Cities hospitals are calling for action after a recent survey found allegations of racism in the healthcare workplace, Sahan Journal reported Feb. 21. 

The study, "Racism in the Hospital," found that members of the Service Employees International Union reported racism in their hospital workplaces as regular occurrences. 

The findings are based on focus groups conducted by the University of Minnesota in March and April 2022. A total of 31 members of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa participated in the focus groups, which took place at HealthPartners Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park; M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina; M Health Fairview Masonic Children's Hospital in Minneapolis; North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale; M Health Fairview St. John's Hospital in Maplewood; and the Children's Minnesota Hospital St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses.

Focus group participants reported racism incidents from co-workers, from management, in treatment of patients, and from patients, according to the study.  

The principal investigator for the study, Edward Goetz, PhD, said participants also expressed concerns about what they view as a lackluster or nonexistent administrative response to racism in the workplace.  

"The problems described by focus group members indicate a widespread and entrenched issue that is made worse by management inaction when complaints are made," Dr. Goetz wrote in the study.

He said participants recommended actions to address the issue, ranging from effective training of managers and workers to better communication in anticipation of and response to incidents involving racism.

Now, months after the study, workers say their employers have failed to adequately take action, according to Sahan Journal.

As of Feb. 21, "we've extended invitations for all of our employers to sit down with members to talk about solutions. We've heard back from only one CEO and one hospital president, with whom we've had only introductory meetings," Brenda Hilbrich, executive vice president with the union, told the publication. "The others have simply ignored our requests to meet. This is unacceptable. Racism is an issue that hurts workers, patients and our whole system."

Some hospitals represented in the study shared statements with Becker's reiterating their commitment to addressing racism. 

"Racism is unacceptable, which makes our work to build an anti-racist culture critically important and constant. Specific to the report, we value the feedback shared by our colleagues, and we continue to have conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion across our organization," a HealthPartners statement read. "We want to know when incidents such as the ones referenced in the report take place so that every colleague, patient and visitor feels comfortable, safe and can be themselves inside our hospitals."

North Memorial Health said the hospital values the research insights shared by the union through the report.

"We recognize that systemic racism continues to challenge our communities and health system and we understand the need for robust, responsive, culturally sensitive healthcare systems and care teams," the hospital said in a statement. "North Memorial Health is proud of the progress made to date through a strong partnership between our HR and DEI teams, and we acknowledge that this work is never finished. 

"Addressing issues of racism requires ongoing collaboration — with each other, community members, partners and union representatives, including SEIU. We look forward to our continued work together."

Children's Hospitals told Sahan Journal via a statement, "We're disheartened to read the findings and the stories described in the … report. No employee should experience racism and discrimination when they come to work."

Children's also pointed to efforts it has made regarding diversity and inclusion, including a new system to report racism, growing its executive leadership team to 30 percent people of color in the last two years, and increasing staff diversity from 19 percent to 25 percent.

In a statement to Sahan Journal, M Health Fairview said comments in the report relate to the same issues that prompted the organization to launch the HOPE Commission to hold it accountable to advancing equity. 

"We are proud of the progress we have made. At the same time, we acknowledge the issues we are collectively tackling are historic, systemic and broad ranging in nature and will also take time to fully address," the statement said, according to the publication. "We are committed to continuing our work to make substantial short-term changes to advance equity and anti-racism while also continuing our commitment to longer-term systemic transformation necessary."

M Health Fairview also pointed to efforts the organization has made, including updating policies to address racism and expanding employee training.

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