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Words Matter: Using our Voices to Speak Out Against Dangerous Speech


By: Michelle LeBeau, President, Alice Hyde Medical Center & CVPH
Matt Jones, Chief Operating Officer, Alice Hyde Medical Center
Kent Hall, MD, Regional Vice President of Medical Affairs
Wouter Rietsema, MD, Vice President Population Health and Information Services, CVPH

As headline after headline brings to us news of the latest horrific act of violence, we are compelled to speak up.  It’s no longer enough to send our “thoughts and prayers” to the people of Chicago, Pittsburgh, Thousand Oaks or to the next community who is affected by similarly tragic events.  As members of this community, health care professionals and leaders of one of the largest employers in the area, we are taking a stand against what we believe to be the precipitating cause of these awful incidents – hate speech or more specifically, dangerous speech.  Dangerous speech goes beyond hate speech in that it opens the door for one group to be viewed as less than human or as mortal threats. Once opened, violence against the group can seem acceptable. 

Make no mistake. Our North Country is not immune to tragedies like those that occurred in Pittsburgh and most recently Chicago.  No community is protected from the effects of dangerous speech. Like the ripples from a rock tossed into a pond, they are inevitable and disruptive. 

We’ve learned through our ongoing cultural work that by speaking out, we can make a difference. Health care is not unlike other businesses when it comes to work culture. Happy employees net great, high quality service. In the recent years, we’ve worked tirelessly, with some success, to foster an environment that supports our teams so they can do what they do best – take care of our patients and each other. 

Our employees have relied on two relevant tactics that are contributing to our progress.  Using our voices to seek feedback and contribute to a kinder workplace and a zero tolerance for bullying have been effective tools in our efforts to promote a more supportive work environment. They’ve been instrumental in fostering a workplace where collaboration - the sharing of ideas and honest discussions - has made a positive impact on nearly every facet of our organizations. 

The anti-bullying sentiment was so strong that CVPH incorporated it into our “People Key Result,” one of three points of focus for the organization.  After all, health care is, first and foremost, about people. Meaningful, respectful connections to those we care for and work with are central to all that we do.  By using our voices, sharing our talents and ideas, our patients and those who care for them benefit. These kinds of relationships are at the core of our common purpose and help us to be better at caring for our community. Most importantly we believe that our efforts are just as relevant in our greater communities as within the walls of our hospital.

At the end of the day, words do matter and we each have to be accountable for how we use them. We’ve opted to denounce the negative, hate-filled discourse that seems all too prevalent in our country today and use our voices to find common ground, and mutually beneficial solutions to our collective challenges.  Join us.