Kaiser CEO addresses racial strife in powerful, personal essay

Latest example of health care intersecting with the issue of racial violence

Bernard Tyson, the African-American CEO of Kaiser Permanente, published an essay Monday about the need to unite in the face of racial strife in America.

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Tyson speaks out

In an essay published on LinkedIn, Tyson said recent tragedies—in Dallas, Minnesota, and elsewhere—had compelled him to speak out. "This moment calls for unity, for listening, and for empathy as we seek to understand what communities of color are facing and the assumptions that the broader society is working from," he wrote.

Tyson said he was concerned both by incidents of violence by police officers against people of color and by the recent attacks against police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

As the leader of a $62-billion-dollar health care organization, Tyson said he understands how gun violence and health care are intimately intertwined. "In addition to the victim, we care for the parents, siblings, friends, and even the communities that are affected [by violence]," he noted.

The status quo, Tyson argued, needs to change. He noted that he had to speak with his three sons about the unique risks they face when interacting with police officers because of the color of their skin. "This is totally unacceptable," he said. "We are at a tipping point in society and the systems we have in place need to change."

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While Tyson praised police officers as dedicated to protecting the public, he said he also "question[ed] the use of deadly force in non-violent situations."

"A police force that is seen as a paramilitary organization with an adversarial relationship with communities of color is neither effective nor what’s needed to move our society forward," he wrote.

Tyson called for a less adversarial relationship between the police and communities of color and "new enforcement options" to reduce the risk of unnecessary violence. Specifically, he questioned the utility of some routine traffic stops, suggesting they could be replaced by mail-based enforcement; praised body cameras; and insisted that police officers have access to means of non-lethal force.

Over the long term, he said, conquering racial issues will require a dialogue and unified communities. "Let's join together to improve race relations and build a better, stronger America. An America for all," he concluded.

A broadening dialogue

Other health care executives and clinicians have also called for changes amid the recent violent incidents, Dave Barkholz reports for Modern Healthcare.

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Baton Rouge General Medical Center CEO Mark Slyter called for dialogue after the recent shooting of police officers in his community. "We are respectful of people's experiences and opinions," he said. "A lot of the healing starts when people get an opportunity to meet and be heard."

Brian Williams, an African-American trauma surgeon at Parkland Memorial Hospital, has also been vocal following the recent shooting of police officers in Dallas. In an interview with CNN, Williams said as a black man he had to acknowledge his fear and mistrust of law enforcement based on personal experience. "Clearly when I'm at work dressed in my white coat, the reactions I get with individuals and the officers I deal with on a daily basis is much different to what I would get outside the hospital in regular clothes," he said (Barkholz, Modern Healthcare, 7/18; Tyson, LinkedIn, 7/18).

How can you help keep hospital staff safe?

Workplace violence is an increasing concern for hospital HR leaders. Advisory Board's HR Advancement Center interviewed an expert at Allied Barton Security Services to discuss key issues surrounding hospital workplace violence and action steps HR leaders can take for prevention.

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