Patient/Family Representative, Patient and Family Relations
Over the past two years, an inter-professional group from Nursing and Patient Care Services has been working to shape the future of caring through a series of conversations about race and health inequities. Through these monthly programs, entitled Diversity and Inclusion Dialogues: Conscious Conversations, the Patient Care Services Diversity and Inclusiveness Committee is helping to advance a caring and healing environment at BWH.
For the inaugural launching of the Conscious Conversations series, the committee, established by Chief Nursing Officer and Senior Vice President of Patient Care Services Jackie Somerville, PhD, RN, adapted a two-hour workshop to educate BWH staff on race-based health inequities in Boston and surrounding communities from Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center’s Abigail Ortiz, MPH, MSW, director of Community Health Programs. The Diversity and Inclusion Dialogues seek to change the water cooler conversation about race and ensure that everyone who enters BWH—patients, families and staff—feels welcomed and cared for.
“I think these discussions among staff are a significant step in helping to foster individual growth and learning with respect how we think and talk about race in the context of our work environment,” said Martha Jurchak, PhD, RN, executive director of the BWH Ethics Service, who chairs the committee with Shelita Bailey, director of the Office for Sponsored Staff and Volunteer Service. Jurchak and Bailey, along with other members of the committee, have organized and facilitated the workshops.
Several workshops were held this past fall, and starting Jan. 22, monthly programs will continue to take place. The facilitated discussion at the workshops creates a safe space for employees to process evidence-based data and begin difficult, yet respectful conversations about their personal and professional experiences related to race, said Bailey.
Bailey pointed out that some of the most poignant data related to infant mortality rates. Longitudinal studies have shown that African-American infants have higher rates of death within their first year of life as compared to other ethnic groups, irrespective of the mother’s socioeconomic class and level of education. “That the color of one’s skin predisposes a child to a higher rate of mortality even in a healthy and supportive prenatal environment was a sobering concept to grasp,” said Bailey. She speculated that peoples’ incredulity stems from discomfort. “It’s easier to explain it away,” she said.
Jurchak said that the discussions have informed her own personal understanding of where she is within the social structure of our society as a white person who, as the data show, enjoys advantages that non-whites do not. She added, “Ideally, seeing the data and sharing experiences will help others to construct a framework that will help guide and improve our practice with our patients, as well as interactions with each other. Our goal is to enhance our work environment to ensure all employees, patients and families of diverse cultures and backgrounds feel welcome and cared for.”
It is not uncommon, Jurchak noted, for people to be afraid of saying something that is not perceived as politically correct, so they shy away from saying anything at all. Both Bailey and Jurchak urge staff to talk openly about these differences: “Be thoughtful, but talk about it,” said Bailey. “Join us at these workshops, as we believe these conversations hold real promise for improving over time the quality of our worklife, the health care for our individual patients and the populations we serve.”