At a time when doctors and nurses are on the front lines in the war against COVID-19, a group of Black healthcare workers in the East Bay said they have been fighting racism on the job for years.
Dozens of healthcare workers staged a demonstration Friday in Oakland after a white nurse was accused of making racist comments against the Black Lives Matter movement.
The hospital employee accused of making racist comments on her personal Facebook page is no longer working at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland. But that did not stop demonstrators from coming to the hospital to condemn the systemic racism that they said exists in the healthcare system.
"We can't say that when we get into the hospital, our Blackness goes away -- so of course it happens in the hospital setting," said Mercy Mutua, an ICU nurse at the hospital.
Mutua said long before dealing with the stress of taking care of COVID-19 patients on ventilators, she has been fighting another virus at work: racism./
Monique Jenkins, who works with Mutua, said she recalls the moment years ago when a white employee at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center blurted an inappropriate comment about another woman of color.
Jenkins said when she spoke up and said the remark was racist, another nurse defended the white employee.
Activists said the final straw was when a white nurse made a racist post about the Black Lives Matter movement on her personal Facebook page. The hospital's CEO came out to talk to the protesters.
"We're deeply saddened at recent evidence of racism and a blatant disregard for human life," Alta Bates Summit Medical Center CEO David Clark said.
Clark did not name the employee accused of wrongdoing, but said the person in question is no longer working for them.
Jenkins said she has spent the last 15 years as a nurse biting her tongue.
"For these people to be out here fighting, it's giving me strength," she said. "When this first happened I was terrified that I couldn't say anything, just deal with it. But it's very important that you hear from us instead of always staying silent."