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Our national observance of Black History Month begins today. Join UW Medicine in celebrating by attending today’s noon flag raising at UW Medicine hospital campuses. Black History Month is a time for reflection, education and celebration about what it means to be Black in America. It is also a time to remind ourselves of our collective responsibility to dismantle racism, including within healthcare. At UW Medicine, we believe that healthcare is a fundamental human right, and all people should have equal access to prevention and treatment.

We also want to celebrate the contributions of our Black colleagues at UW Medicine. Whether through innovative research, exceptional clinical care or inspired teaching, we are grateful for their wisdom and passion and remarkable work in support of our shared mission. Later this month, we will celebrate colleagues in a Huddle feature that shares their heritage, commitment and interests: from a physician focused on inclusive service to a collector of social justice art to a son’s pride for a father who served in World War II.

We often hear of historical examples of systemic racism in healthcare. Many of us know by now the story of the U.S. Public Health Service’s Syphilis Study conducted in Tuskegee, Alabama, which purposefully left more than 400 Black men with the disease untreated. In the study, the participants were never told they had syphilis nor were they provided available penicillin treatment, resulting in both exposure to their families and the deaths of hundreds of men. Or perhaps we have all heard of the story of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman who had her cancer cells taken from her in 1951 without her knowledge. Most of our cell culture research is based on the HeLa cell.

The reason we continue to discuss racism and bias in healthcare is because the past influences the present and inequities persist. Here are just a few contemporary examples of national inequities in healthcare diagnosis, treatment and prevention:

  • Consider that cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable. Black women have the lowest incidence of cervical cancer as compared with other racial or ethnic groups, yet they have the highest mortality rate due to structural inequities that affect access to and quality of care for screening and treatment.
  • Consider that while most maternal deaths are preventable, maternity mortality rates are two to three times higher for Black women than for white women, regardless of socioeconomic status.
  • Consider that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected Black communities, and other communities of color, which led to disparities in vaccination access, testing and treatment, resulting in both higher infection rates and worse outcomes for Black individuals.

We all share a responsibility in eliminating inequities in society and within our healthcare system that have resulted from systemic, structural and institutional racism. At UW Medicine, we are actively working to:

  • Address inequities in our administrative, teaching and clinical environments.
  • Improve underrepresentation in clinical trials.
  • Increase access to quality care.
  • Engage our marginalized communities.
  • Reduce bias in diagnosis and treatment of disease.

The Office of Healthcare Equity is a tremendous resource for talks and training on the principles of equity, diversity, inclusion and justice. The Huddle Black History Month page provides digital assets to take part in this month’s celebration, as well as learning resources for all employees, and self-care resources for Black employees.

Thank you for joining us on this journey of celebration, reflection and action and for your continued commitment to achieving healthcare equity.


Timothy H. Dellit, MD
Chief Executive Officer, UW Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and
Paul G. Ramsey Endowed Dean of the School of Medicine,
University of Washington

Paula L. Houston, EdD
Chief Equity Officer
Office of Healthcare Equity, UW Medicine
Associate Vice President for Medical Affairs,
University of Washington

Bessie A. Young, MD
Vice Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Office of Healthcare Equity
UW Medicine Professor of Medicine, Division of Nephrology, Department of Medicine,
University of Washington

Edwin G. Lindo, JD
Assistant Dean for Social & Health Justice
Office of Healthcare Equity, UW Medicine

 Brad Simmons
President, UW Medicine Hospitals & Clinics
Vice President for Medical Affairs,
University of Washington 

Jacqueline Cabe
Chief Financial Officer, UW Medicine
Vice President for Medical Affairs,
University of Washington

Ruth Mahan
Chief Business Officer, UW Medicine
Chief of Staff, UW Medicine
Vice President for Medical Affairs,
University of Washington

Becca Kelly
Interim Chief Advancement Officer, UW Medicine
Interim Vice President for Medical Affairs,
University of Washington

Anneliese Schleyer, MD
Interim Chief Medical Officer, UW Medicine
Interim Vice President for Medical Affairs,
University of Washington

Cindy Hecker
Chief Executive Officer
UW Medical Center

Sommer Kleweno Walley
Chief Executive Officer
Harborview Medical Center

Jeannine Erickson Grinnell
Chief Executive Officer
Valley Medical Center

Erica Floyd
Interim Executive Director
UW Physicians

Pranika Laing
Interim Associate Vice President/Executive Director
UW Medicine Primary Care and Population Health

Jeff Richey
Executive Director
Airlift Northwest