“When you learn, teach, when you get, give.”

How did nurses at ECMC and Terrace View Long Term Care in Buffalo move from horror and grief over the death of George Floyd this summer to launching a new initiative to take on systemic racism? Inspiration came from the Maya Angelou quote, “When you learn, teach, when you get, give.”

We are part of the solution

In the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer, some of the chatter on social media and at the nurses’ station reflected prejudice and a lack of understanding about the challenges that Black Americans face. Working with diverse colleagues in a predominantly Black and Brown community, a group of nurses realized the urgency of challenging biases and making positive change in their workplace and community.

“We can’t ignore what’s happening in the world, because it’s reflected here,” said Giovanni Maurice, RN, one of the founders of the new Allies in Healthcare Equality initiative. “We started this group to be part of the solution and to do something more than put out a statement, a poster, or a pin. We wanted to work towards concrete changes.”

Making a difference

Allies started out by created working subgroups to address diversity, equity and inclusion issues in patient care, training and policy, and community inclusion. In less than two months, they have already driven positive, concrete changes at ECMC and Terrace View.

The group is currently working with management on documentation issues to bring awareness to how diseases present on different skin pigmentation.

“You really can’t be color blind in healthcare,” said Margaret Cod, RN. “It’s about color awareness—recognizing and celebrating our differences in a respectful way. We recently added more patient bath products for all races and ethnic backgrounds. So many patients are excited now to have skin and hair products available that they actually use.”

Allies also want to go beyond past ECMC-driven initiatives that focus on diversity without tackling equity and challenging topics. The policies and training subgroup is working to develop mandatory trainings on racism, and they’re examining policies, assignments and promotions for bias. Management recently agreed to standing monthly diversity and inclusion meetings.

Community inclusion

Allies hopes to bring hope and inspiration to their co-workers and community. They plan posters throughout the hospital that celebrate staff and community achievements year-round—not just during Black History Month. This Halloween, they are going into local schools and the community with healthy gift bags of masks, sanitizer, and toothbrushes to talk to kids about their health and about jobs in healthcare.

At Terrace View Long Term Care, nurses are moving many of the same initiatives. Townhall conversations about racism are already happening. More diverse patient care products have been ordered. Nurses are working with the Diversity and Inclusion office on a new process to escalate issues and create better retention and more advancement opportunities for nurses of color. Terrace View’s Allies group is also tackling other forms of injustice, including against LGBTQ+ patients and staff.

Stronger together

“The tunnel may separate us, but we are united,” explained Terrace View nurse Steve Requena, RN. “We’re working to line up Allies at ECMC and Terrace View more, because together, we’re stronger. Together we can impact ECMC.”

Although started within NYSNA by NYSNA nurses, Allies in Healthcare Equality is open to any healthcare worker at ECMC and TVLTC.

“This group is open to anyone who is interested in fair treatment and speaking out against injustice,” explained Antoinette Foster, RN, of TVLTC. “To fully be a team, we need to be united. Working together for equality
and racial justice will help us do just that.”

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