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Creating a Culture of Diversity and Belonging with Patients, Part I: How to Talk with Patients about Events Related to Racial Injustice

Many patients have been affected by recent events and ongoing racial injustice, such as the tragic murder of George Floyd and others by police and the protests that followed. How do you (or would you) respond if a patient brings up police violence or injustice against Black people? Having these conversations, especially with other patients and care team members within earshot, can be difficult. However, it is important that all patients feel like they belong and are welcome in the communities created in health care centers. This post provides tips for how to discuss race with patients, to help create a sense of community where everyone belongs.

Many of our communities and patients have faced disruption, anxiety and uncertainty because of racial injustice. Patients may be experiencing a wide range of emotions, including feelings of sadness, fear, isolation and anger. These emotions are on top of what they may already be feeling due to the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.

As you interact with patients, we recommend reinforcing that you want to help them continue feeling safe and supported. It may be useful to take the following actions:

  1. Connect with patients. Ask how they are doing and how recent events are affecting them and their families. It is also important to recognize that not all patients want or are ready to share about their experience. It is important that we respect where our patients are at.
  2. Empathize with patients. Listen carefully and acknowledge that they may be hurting and worried about their community.
  3. Create a safe space. Respect that everyone has their own response to these events, while also holding everyone in your center(s) accountable to treating others with fairness and respect. For example, if a patient uses hurtful or hateful language when discussing a group of people, ask them to refrain from doing so while in the center.
  4. Ensure patients can continue to receive the care they need. Encourage patients to share what support they need during this time. For example, you can ask if protests have affected their living situations or transportation plans, and then offer help to find solutions, as needed. Even if that type of support is not needed but a patient seems upset, suggest that a social worker connect with them to help them work through their feelings.
  5. Embrace differences. Go beyond tolerance and acceptance, and embrace diversity in your center. You may work with and care for individuals of all genders, races, religions, sexualities and backgrounds, and that should be celebrated. Now more than ever before, it is important we come together to support each other and create a place of belonging in the care setting.

You may feel pressure to try to be perfect and always have the right words to say. However, being there for patients can go further than having the “perfect” response. Whenever words fail, you can share, “I don’t have all the right words to say, but know that I’m here for you and I care about you.” Please be patient with yourself. The best way to start creating a culture of diversity and belonging is to educate yourself on racial injustice. Then, together with your colleagues, strive to make your center a place where everyone can belong.

Upcoming post: Creating a Culture of Diversity and Belonging with Patients, Part II: How to Use Inclusive Language

Amber Pace, LCSW

Amber Pace, LCSW

Amber Pace is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Licensed Addiction Counselor whose passion is building successful teams who provide great care to patients, improving the quality of life they experience. Amber joins DaVita from Centura Health, where she most recently led development and growth of a 26-site integrated primary care behavioral health program. Prior to Centura, she served patients as a clinician at Jefferson Center for Mental Health and began her career with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in downtown Denver. Amber is also an Adjunct Faculty at University of Denver, where she teaches in the Graduate School of Social Work (SW). At DaVita, Amber is working with our national SW team to advance our focus on counseling and serving the behavioral health needs of our patients in our clinics and as part of our integrated kidney care programs.