Debbie Sears Barnard, a Nurse Speaks on Healthcare Harm and Inequity

Read Debbie’s blog post in the #RootCauseRacism series:

Hello. Thanks for the opportunity to be here. I’m Debbie Sears Barnard. You’ll notice that off to the side, you can see it’s nighttime where I am. I am currently in Dubai. I work for Joint Commission International, but this conversation and my participation in the blog series was not related to my current job.

Deondra tapped me on the shoulder and initially, I hesitated because I’m not one to be on the frontline. I’m not a protester. I’m not a marcher. As I listened to her talk about why this work was so important, I realized that I needed to add my voice, my personal contribution to this discussion.

I started healthcare as a young nurse in my early 20s. For 30 plus years, I’ve been involved in healthcare. Healthcare is all I know. I’ve had the opportunity to live in five different countries. I’ve seen healthcare at various levels as a frontline nurse, in roles at the executive level. In Canada, I had the opportunity to work for the Canadian Patient Safety industry.

When I first started to do research and collate my thoughts for the blog, I realized that this point in our conversation is connected to a lot of the data that we’ve already uncovered related to safety, that basically unfortunately, when patients come to us in healthcare, they’re often harmed by care. That’s been the focus of my work for more than 15 years.

I can tell you I was totally impacted because I realized in my past role, when I was looking at how to answer the question, “How safe is healthcare?” that the organizations where I previously worked and the work that I led, very seldom did we pull the data and look and see is harm equal?

As I was doing the research, we had a part of our Women in Lean group who did some additional research. I provided those references in the blog. Those of you interested, I encourage you to go and look. The data is very clear that persons of color are harmed by care.

I realized that my passion for making sure that our patients are safe that I personally, out of this conversation, have realized that my work needs to add to it a new dynamic. The two things, the call to action…If you noticed, I’ve given you my personal viewpoint, my personal feelings because I feel that for those of you that are participating, when you look at the data as someone who gave feedback after the blog, she said, “Oh my God, I didn’t know this data.”

I would encourage every single person, because if you have not interfaced with the healthcare system yet, somewhere along your life journey, you will have to. I recommend that you look at the data, look at the current state. There are two things that we can do.

Those of us that are sitting in leadership roles, we can first do this. A lovely free assessment tool that’s available that organizations can look and do an assessment so that they can understand what is the current state.

On an individual basis, for those of us that are healthcare professionals, there’s a test called the implicit bias test. It can be used in healthcare. It can be used in any of the industries, but healthcare is my baby. I’m asking all my healthcare practitioners to take it.

Because even as we’re interfacing with patients, we realize that those things that we’re not even aware of may be dictating how we interface with the people that we care for. Those are my two things. On an organizational level, do an assessment, know where you’re at. As all of my colleagues have said, once you know, do one small thing, start with action. Thanks a lot.

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