“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Every so often (it seems incredibly frequent these past few years), something happens that shakes every good person’s sense of moral justice. In May 2020, it was the killing, on camera, of an unarmed black man who pleaded — for eight minutes and 46 seconds — with the officer whose knee was pressed into his neck, for breath … for his mother … for his life.
These are raw, gut-wrenching, difficult-to-understand realities that call each of us to look for answers. The contrast is stark because as women and men who choose to work in California’s hospitals, you have chosen a life of supporting and caring for others, no matter their circumstance, no matter their race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, no matter the differences that define us. To see life — something that you fight so hard to save and improve — taken so callously flies in the face of everything you do every day.
It hurts to know it has happened before. It hurts to see again and again. It hurts to think about. It hurts to know that it will happen again before it stops. And that can make anyone feel powerless.
We cannot become silent about things that matter. And while we may want them, there are no simple answers. While looting and destruction are not a solution, there are, possibly, paths to improve the deep, systemic problems that enabled the killing of George Floyd.
First, as leaders in California hospitals, are there ways we can educate ourselves, our friends, our colleagues, our organizations about key issues: racism, anti-racism, systemic oppression, and more? In doing so, we can sharpen the lens through which we view these events and how we might personally and organizationally respond when they occur.
Second, are there more opportunities for our organizations to support the breadth of our communities, especially those facing societal challenges? How do our organizations interact with and support communities of color in our service areas? How do our organizations’ values and missions align to help stem problems like this? Are there local funding opportunities? Partnerships? Outreach?
Finally, how might we, collectively as a hospital field, rededicate ourselves to addressing these longstanding issues? As providers of health care, we should start with health equity and the social determinants of health. And we should take it on for real — not as a project, not as a two-year strategic initiative — but as the most just way to care for all the people whose lives we have the privilege to touch.
Hospital leaders have an opportunity to speak up and act now, to renounce the silence and commit ourselves and our communities to what matters.