By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
A ceremony honoring healthcare providers and organizations opened up new ways of looking at the pandemic. The virtual event, hosted by the Northwest Asian Weekly on Feb. 9, was structured so that supporters were free to pose any questions to the honorees.
The results were illuminating.
Healthcare professionals rated the Biden administration’s handling of the crisis, shared previously unknown details about the origins of the outbreak in Seattle, reflected on what practices they hoped would continue, advised on how to find a balance between caring for others and oneself, and shared ways to overcome fear in the face of death.
In addition, Nate Miles, vice president of Strategic Initiatives at Eli Lilly, offered coaching about how to talk about an experiment undertaken by the United States government, lasting from the 1930s to the 1970s, to infect Black men with syphilis, the memory of which dissuades some Blacks from trusting the vaccine, he said.
“You’ve got to understand, you’re going to have to slow walk these people and really convince them and you just can’t gloss over it and pretend it didn’t happen,” he said.
Miles said similar abuses experienced by other marginalized groups must also be acknowledged as part of a broader strategy to engender trust.
“You have to make this country understand what you did. You put people on reservations. You took people’s homes from them and you put them in encampments and you want to call them camps. They weren’t camps,” he said, referring lastly to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Miles asked questions of Winona Hollins-Hauge, a social worker, activist, and radio host, and several other honorees, and his comments came in response to their remarks.
Asked to rate the Biden administration’s handling of the pandemic, Hollins-Hauge praised the renewed “unleashing” of Dr. Anthony Fauci and said the new leadership “realized this is a big problem and that it is going to take everybody.”
Another question from Miles, this time directed to Teresita Batayola, president and CEO of International Community Health Services (ICHS), asked her to compare differences between now and when the virus broke out.
As for the start of the pandemic, it has been largely unknown that it was in the Bellevue Clinic of ICHS where the first COVID-19 case was detected, even before King County Public Health announced it, she said.
Winnie Lee, the assistant medical director there, and one of the honorees, recognized COVID-19 even at that early stage and instantly ordered personal protective equipment (PPE) for herself and her staff.
As for the future, Batayola said one unanswered question was whether the Defense Production Act invoked by Biden would make a difference in the accelerated production of vaccines.
“The community needs to keep advocating to make sure that vaccines land in our hands instead of in mass distribution, where allocation formulas are so complex that community health centers like ICHS are being shorted,” she said.
Responding to another question by Miles, Michael Byun, executive director at Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS), praised his entire team and said it takes a collaborative approach to combat the pandemic.
“A lot of the solutions are within our communities, policymakers need to acknowledge that and lean in and listen to provide the support that the community is asking,” he said.
Advocacy was also a theme of a question by Leeching Tran, vice president of the Viet-Wah Group, another event supporter.
“After the pandemic is over, what habits or behaviors do you want to see people continue or keep?” she asked Dr. Anthony Chen, director of health of Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
After offering praise for the widespread wearing of masks, social distancing, avoiding gatherings, and staying home while sick, all of which have actually lowered the transmission of the flu this season, Chen offered concrete hopes for the future. Asian countries routinely adopt mass mask wearing during cold and flu season, and he hoped we would consider doing so in this country.
Nevertheless, people should continue hygienic practices, self-care measures, such as eating healthily and getting enough rest, and continue to get outdoor exercise, he said. Finally, he marveled at the levels of compassion he had seen people showing for each other.
“We’re all traumatized to some degree so this is wonderful that people are really focusing on compassion, I’d love to see that continue,” he said.
Balancing compassion between oneself and others was the topic of a question by Tim Otani, director and external affairs manager at Union Bank.
“How do you train your students, our future nurses, to balance caring for patients with the need to take care of their own families?” he asked Gayle Robinson, a registered nurse and professional development specialist at Swedish Medical Center.
Beyond educating them in the appropriate use of PPE, Robinson, who also has a doctorate along with several other advanced degrees, teaches them to take into account how marginalized populations are impacted differently by society.
Albert Chun, International District branch manager for Washington Federal Bank, asked about the opposite end of the emotional spectrum.
“How do you overcome the fear of getting this disease while continuing to work in the health sector?”
Keith Koga answered, “Not just taking care of oneself physically and mentally and using PPE properly, ‘but donning and doffing’ it is vital.” Koga is a clinical assistant nursing manager at Harborview, and manages a COVID testing site. “It’s our job and responsibility to call anyone out that is not doing it correctly.”
Min Chang, CEO of Kin On, added that both prevention and containment of positive cases were necessary. There is no good answer for how to take away the fear experienced by her staff, particularly in nursing, she said. But she has opened up units in Kin On’s adult family home for nursing staff to stay in so they don’t bring the virus home. Meanwhile, ACRS has provided classes about how to reduce stress.
Stress has reached new levels not only among healthcare workers, said Imei Hsu, a licensed mental health counselor and registered nurse, also an honoree. In comments made during the portion of the program supported by Rocky Fong, vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility at U.S. Bank, Hsu said with the dawn of 2021, we have moved beyond simply panic into disillusionment.
“In the disillusionment phase, there is more emphasis on what are you really going to do for your mental health now, because you’ve been putting it off saying, ‘I think I can just get through this year (2020),’ and that didn’t quite happen the way we thought it would,” she said.
One strategy she recommended was resilience.
“Never give up, always be available for others with the knowledge you have and the training you have.” She also encouraged everyone to find inspiration from a past ancestor’s story of courage.
Northwest Asian Weekly’s associate publisher, John Liu, asked Yoon Joo Han, behavioral health director at ACRS, about tips for dealing with depression.
“Reach out to people you know and care about,” said Han. “It’s okay not to feel okay. Talk about your feelings with someone you trust.”
Other questions centered on the logistics of vaccination, for instance, should those who’ve already had COVID-19 get the vaccine?
As long as you’re feeling better and not still isolating, then yes, said Lee, the assistant director of the ICHS clinic in Bellevue.
While getting vaccinated, pop-up health clinics can also serve as places where a community can reunite and find emotional support.
A shot clinic last week at the Central Area Senior Center not only vaccinated 400 people, but it was the first time people had gathered in months.
“When we brought all those people together, with six feet of distancing and all the safety protocol, you wouldn’t believe how good it felt, it felt like old home week,” said Hollins-Hauge.
A less visible part of confronting the pandemic, however, emerged in remarks by Jim Doane, corporate counsel at Costco Wholesale. When large retail stores sell PPE from overseas, there is a herculean effort necessary to make sure it is reliable.
“You have to look at labeling, customs regulations, you have to look at FDA regulations, so there’s a lot of nitty-gritty nerdy work behind the scenes to try to get non-counterfeit PPE into the country,” said Doane.
Each individual honoree received a plaque, a bottle of red wine, and a gift certificate for a restaurant in the Chinatown-International District.
Organizations that were nominated received gift certificates from the Viet-Wah Supermarket.
“Please take time for yourself and don’t forget to laugh every single day,” said Assunta Ng, publisher of Northwest Asian Weekly.
Mahlon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.