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A shuttered clinic raises questions about anti-racism work in the medical field

caption: Dental assistant Kim Weston updates a chart at the Odessa Brown Children's Clinic in Seattle. Weston has worked at the clinic for more than a decade.
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Dental assistant Kim Weston updates a chart at the Odessa Brown Children's Clinic in Seattle. Weston has worked at the clinic for more than a decade.

Earlier this year, Seattle Children's Hospital released an independent assessment of its anti-racism action plan, the first phase of which was completed.

Among several challenges cited in the report is the hospital's still rocky relationship with the Odessa Brown Clinic in Seattle's Central District.

A new Odessa Brown Clinic in the Othello neighborhood began serving patients in March 2022. But the historic Central District location has been closed for over a year. Hospital officials said the building needed major repairs.

KUOW RadioActive youth media journalist Indigo Mays reported on the history, recent controversy, and legacy of the Odessa Brown clinic. You can find her original report here.

After hearing Mays' reporting, Soundside reached out to Dr. Ben Danielson, who Indigo interviewed in her story.

Danielson was medical director at the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, where he worked for more than 20 years. We wanted to learn more about his time at the clinic and the broader problem of how racism pervades the medical system.

"It was and remained a dream job for me," Danielson said. "It's an amazing place and it's got an incredible history — one that I think we all owe a lot to maintain, and sustain and honor as we move forward."

Danielson also spoke to why he left the clinic, citing frustrations about the way Black or Brown families particularly were treated at Seattle Children's Hospital, which owns the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic.

"It was so striking to see how the Odessa Brown Clinic really tried to live in to the idea every day of bringing quality care with dignity, and yet we sent families to a hospital that stripped them of their sense of dignity on a regular basis," Danielson said.

Danielson said the final straw was seeing how the hospital reacted to protests in the wake of George Floyd's death. He said that while there was discussion of addressing issues like racism, "it was clear to me that there was no intention to do anything significant about it."

Currently, Danielson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington. He said he's working on ways to keep children from being incarcerated. This project speaks to his philosophy of treating not just immediate medical needs, but also the conditions that cause negative health outcomes, he added.

It's been two-and-a-half years since Danielson’s departure, and we wanted to know what has changed within Seattle Children’s.

We reached out to Seattle Children’s Hospital about Danielson’s comments regarding transparency, community involvement, and the long-term outlook for the Odessa Brown Clinic on Yesler. Children’s declined to respond to Danielson’s comments directly, but did put us in touch with their chief diversity officer, Alicia Tieder.

Tieder has been with Seattle Children’s for over eight years and currently works at the hospital's Center for Diversity and Health Equity. She said the anti-racism work over the last three years at Children's has been significant.

"The murder of George Floyd then really propelled us to launch what we call our 'anti-racism organizational change strategic plan,'" Tieder said. The pillars of that strategic plan include categories such as health care outcomes, hiring practices, and how the hospital engages with law enforcement and security, she added.

"It touches every corner of the organization, it is not just one thing," Tieder said. But she also noted that it's hard to rebuild trust with a community.

Tieder said that Seattle Children’s Hospital plans to have more information about the status of the Central District Odessa Brown Clinic location available within early fall. We’ll keep you updated.

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