Over the past four years, LEI has worked with the Lynn Community Health Center (LCHC) in Lynn, MA, about ten miles northeast of Boston. We hope we have been helpful but are certain that we’ve learned an enormous amount about the challenge of delivering high-quality healthcare to a multicultural community hard-pressed for resources.
A special source of learning has been working with Dr. Kiame Mahaniah, the CEO of LCHC. Dr. Mahaniah is a lean thinker and practitioner who has been leading an enterprise-wide lean transformation for many years, making him a notable leader within the lean community. On June 1, amid growing civil unrest, he wrote to his staff at LCHC the statement below about his struggle in the current crisis. I felt it was important to share.
As the events of the past few weeks have unfolded, fully embedded in our society’s racism — a football player shot for jogging, a birder threatened in the middle of Central Park for requesting that a dog be leashed and most recently, a man and a crowd begging for his breath as his life was slowly choked out of him — I have been at loss at what to think, much less what to write as CEO of the health center.
In truth, I, like you, have been feeling a kaleidoscope of feelings: confusion, fear, anger, despair. For those of us who are brown or love someone with dark skin, the helplessness feels physically immediate. For all of us who believe in dignity, who strive to live a life of healing, the past weeks have been discouraging. Will we ever grapple successfully with our very own uniquely American sin, our hurting body politic partially built on the bones of our peculiar version of slavery and racism? Will we find a way to love one other, acknowledge each other’s pain and aspirations as individuals, grant each other the generosity necessary to heal? While you each try to find an answer to those questions, it’s fair to recognize that you will have all those feelings, and more, in the days and weeks to come.
In many ways, at the health center, we are lucky. Our mission as well as our daily work is dedicated to addressing inequities. We do not shy away from society’s harmful effects or from the people’s pain: we invite them to share, we hope to grant them the space to be heard and the support to live on. When we provide long needed services and strive for patient convenience, when we address patients with terms of respect, when we dress up to bear witness to the importance of their lives, we are building a better world for the most vulnerable in our community. Our work is a daily stand against racism.
Through our improvements in service and in outcomes over the last years, we have proven we can deliver the opportunity of a healthier life to our patients. Through the close relationship between the health center and the union, we work for a more equitable world. By placing employee wellness and education at the center of our strategic vision, we commit daily to a beloved community. My goal, as your CEO, is to lead us toward delivering the best outcomes that any healthcare institution has ever delivered, while transforming LCHC into one of the best places to work. That is part of my personal answer, part of what I use against feelings of helplessness, how I claim this society as equally mine. Our work, daily and over the years, is part of our contribution to the dismantling of racism.
I invite you to a health center wide town hall Tuesday at noon, around the current events, to share our thoughts and feelings with each other. Beyond Tuesday, we will reintroduce the racial inequity brown-bag lunches some of us had started before the pandemic hit. For the near future, the gatherings will be virtual. We had planned on having them monthly, but we may opt to have them more frequently if there is interest.
Racism, slavery, racial inequities. These are not easy words to say or hear in a work environment. The emotions they elicit make discussions painful. Yet, if there is to be a path forward, if there is to be healing on the way to establishing the Beloved Community, we, as people dedicated to social justice, cannot turn away from the pain.
“Few are guilty, but all are responsible.” Rabbi Abraham Heschel
“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone — we find it with another.” Thomas Merton
Kiame Mahaniah, MD
Chief Executive Officer
Lynn Community Health Center