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Creating Safe Spaces: Education and Advocacy play important roles in efforts to disrupt racism

“We want to create an environment that says, ‘Come here, this is a safe space and you’re welcome here,’ and the same should apply when dealing with staff.”

Lula Fesehaye, Nurse, HSC Adult Emergency Department

Lula Fesehaye began her nursing career a decade ago, first working in a medical department at the Health Sciences Center (HSC) Winnipeg before accepting a six-month assignment at the HSC’s emergency room to “see what it was like.”

For Lula, the experience of those six months confirmed that the emergency was right for her.

“I really enjoy my work, this is my home. But it’s not without its challenges,” Lula said, citing the pace and volumes—and their impact—that employees deal with every day.

The dynamics of a busy emergency room can evoke a high level of emotion. Patients are triaged based on the urgency of their care needs, which often means those who wait longer for care feel anxiety, frustration, and even anger. Those emotions, Lula added, can cause some patients to lash out at times.

“You have to work in an emergency to understand the environment,” Lula said. “When patients come and wait and they see someone being treated right away, it’s not uncommon for people to see visible differences as the reason, without understanding the severity of someone’s illness.”

“While we are a safe place where all patients must receive equal and respectful care, regardless of gender or race, it is well documented that some patients experience discrimination or feel it impacts their care.”

A smiling woman in a medical mask looks at the camera.  She is in a hospital corridor.
Lula Fesehaye

Providing equitable care to all Manitobans is something that healthcare providers regularly work toward, regardless of their personal experience and background. Participate in educational events aimed at increasing their knowledge and understanding of health gaps and systemic challenges that exist within our system.

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That’s very close to Lula – who is on a mission to take steps on the path to progress.

“When it first happened to me, upon sighting, it wasn’t talked about, which was so frustrating,” Lula said. “I came home angry thinking about what had happened at work, how I had been treated and that no one seemed to know what to do or say. However, the same applies to patients who tell us that they experience racism. As a nurse, you need to be able to see what you can do about it. The patient needs to be heard and we all need to learn to be an ally.”

Lula’s passion led to a 2021 Grand Rounds presentation on Disrupting Racism in Emergency Medicine. The presentation, a theme that grew out of lobbying by Lula and other members of the Special Interest Group for Justice, Diversity and Inclusion, focused on racism in the ED from a staff perspective. The advocacy group, which includes members from a range of disciplines and professions, has worked over the past year to identify ways to promote inclusion, diversity and fight racism.

“It’s beyond my experience or a patient’s experience,” Lula added. “When a patient comes into our department, they should know that they will be cared for and treated with respect, regardless of gender, race or background.”

“We want to create an environment that says, ‘Come here, this is a safe space and you’re welcome here,’ and the same should apply when dealing with staff.”

The Disrupting Racism in Emergency Medicine group is working to implement change for better outcomes for patients and staff. After the Grand Rounds, Lula and colleagues were approached and asked to present during the annual ER training days in May.

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“I’m really excited about the opportunity because this is an issue that affects us all,” Lula said. “I hope for a more open forum where employees can share their experiences, learn from each other and offer suggestions on how we can all make a difference.”

“Silence isn’t the way to go,” Lula added. “If you don’t know what to say or what to do, we want to offer you ideas and support so that when you see it happening to someone, you can stand by their side as an ally.”

Do your part to create a safe and respectful care and work environment. Share/print this visual reminder in your workspace or department.

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