Advocating for Patients during a Period of Unrest

June 16, 2020 1:39 PM | Sally Winkelman

Christopher J Ford, MD
Infinity/Envision Healthcare-Ascension Columbia St. Marys Milwaukee
Advisory Board Member-Wisconsin Emergency Services for Children

Dear Fellow EM Providers of Wisconsin,

Last week I sent an email to my group, Infinity/Envision Healthcare, regarding the unrest and much-needed self-reflection our county is experiencing now given the Floyd tragedy. My goal was to advocate for our patients and provide an environment that was even more welcoming, given the circumstances. The email was well received and subsequently sent to my partners nationwide. I got many emails in response from throughout the country, often offering personal experiences of racial and social injustices experienced by the sender or their family members. I was genuinely appreciative of each story shared and respectful of the acceptance of the message I was trying to relay.

Similarly, I wanted to share my personal experiences in this forum, and offer the perspective of some of our patients as context. Despite growing up in an extremely politically active family, I will try to keep this as a-political as possible. In my experience, this has been the best approach to work interactions.

Growing up on the Southside of Chicago, I’ve had many interfaces with police as an African-American male. Some very positive, and some I will never forget, which tailor my interactions with law enforcement to this day. I share with some of my partners in a joking fashion, as is classically my coping mechanism, of how conscious I am of how I appear when driving through my (mostly white) neighborhood after a night shift as a black man. Or, more-so, how careful I am with my interactions with police even at work. Although jovially presented, there is much context, and more so, PTSD attributed. Unfortunately, these experiences are not held by myself alone but by many African-Americans and Latinos, many of whom are our patients.

I write this not to garner sympathy, but rather to invoke even more empathy into our interactions with our minority patient population over the coming days. Even if a member of this population has not had adverse run-ins with the police, the stressors of our current times remain triggers.  The Floyd funeral services, the protests, or witnessing of the eight minutes and forty-six seconds of unconscionable disregard for human life will likely re-open scars of the tragic loss of family or friends some have had subconsciously. Us of whom have grown up in inner-city environments probably will have a similar story of loss that rises again to surface with a tragedy such as the Floyd incident.

I ask that we all be incredibly mindful of our patient interactions, starting with our next shift. The entire nation is on edge at this time, and any form of confrontation will now be magnified. Although I am confident you all bring to your practice always an air of empathy and gentle touch, I will admit, I have had moments of frustration fueled by adverse patient interactions. Upon later reflection,  I wish I could have de-escalated some of these situations sooner. We are all human, and to deny our potential for mirroring anger is ignoring a huge blind spot in our practice. For all of our safety and the safety of our patients, we must take care to maintain an environment that is as least provocative as possible, even more so than usual.

I thank you all for taking the time to read this email, and I also thank you all for the work that you do. Years later, future providers will reflect on all we have been through as a discipline in the middle of a pandemic and social unrest; these are unprecedented times indeed. You all are truly heroes, never forget that!

~Christopher J. Ford, MD