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Building on our renewed commitment to healthcare equity and its position as an FY19 priority, UW Medicine recently co-sponsored a “Community Conversation on Healthcare Equity” with UW School of Medicine’s Center for Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (CEDI). More than 40 residents from Rainier Beach and surrounding communities came together at the Rainier Beach Community Center to discuss how they have experienced the healthcare system.

Listening to and engaging the communities we serve as partners in assessing and addressing healthcare equity is one of three key objectives of UW Medicine’s healthcare equity blueprint.

UW Medicine Director of Healthcare Equity Paula Houston welcomed the crowd, which included community members, clinicians and nurses, as well as representatives from Seattle’s Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center. Houston emphasized our focus to provide better care to those populations who are experiencing the greatest health disparities and poor health outcomes.

Chief Diversity Officer Leo Morales discussed social determinants of health, and Dr. Kemi Doll presented the historical context influencing current issues and outcomes of black women’s reproductive health. Morales and Doll are both members of UW Medicine’s Healthcare Equity Steering Committee.

The conversation was then opened up and broken out into table discussions, examining the community’s experience with inequities and barriers in the healthcare system at large, any direct experiences with UW Medicine, and ideas for improvement.

Attendees shared powerful stories of their patient experiences, which were as diverse as the community – from a mother whose daughter was met with little understanding of her fatal sickle cell disease to a gay, low-income white man experiencing explicit bias from his UW Medicine provider to the hard-of-hearing/deaf community and their unique interpreter needs.

“Hearing the stories of inequity and health disparities in this community was eye-opening,” Houston said. “This event made it clear that we need to become an active participant in our communities – doing so both helps them feel heard and is cathartic, and is also informationally rich for us.”

Specific perceptions and challenges voiced by the community participants about the UW Medicine system included its role as an “elitist” medical institution (with limited resources for low-income patients) where patients can feel more like research subjects, and students form temporary relationships with patients. Additional barriers were those of language, access and navigation of the system – particularly due to disparate medical records.

A number of ideas for improvement were suggested with one of the most repeated being for a patient rights advocate or clinic champion/case manager to serve as a bridge to community. Cultural empathy trainings were also highly recommended.

Participants appreciated being provided a forum to voice concerns about their healthcare experiences and that UW Medicine is actively listening and striving to make culturally humble improvements in its delivery of care. The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance mammogram van was also on site to offer screenings.

This was the first of three planned community conversations; the next will be held in North Seattle in midfall.


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