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Frontline workers share grievances with Denver Health Board of Directors as formal complaint remains in legal limbo

Denver Health Board meeting
Posted at 10:00 PM, Jan 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 00:49:57-05

DENVER — On Thursday, frontline workers from Denver Health aired grievances to the Denver Health and Hospital Authority Board of Directors, alleging employee intimidation and institutional racism.

A formal whistleblower complaint was filed in November 2020 and remains pending with the Colorado Department of Labor.

The allegations shared during the meeting were from four members of Denver Health Workers United, some of whom are employees of Denver Health.

"I've witnessed tension, intentional targeting, unfair treatment and prevention of advancement of Black and Latino staff," one union member said.

"The retreat from a commitment to equity under the current administration is glaring," another union member said.

Dr. Katie Bakes is an emergency physician at the hospital and one of four Denver Health employees listed on the whistleblower complaint filed under Colorado's Whistleblower Protection Public Health Emergencies Act.

The complaint was filed by the nonprofit Towards Justice on behalf of the employees and alleges the medical center retaliated against Bakes and others for sharing concerns about systemic racism and COVID-19 safety.

"When push comes to shove, people don't feel comfortable speaking. They feel that if they do speak up, they'll be retaliated against. Those in authority are allowed to conduct themselves in very egregious, unprofessional ways, whereas those on the lower end of the totem pole are treated very harshly," Bakes said. "There's a lot of people coming out, and they're not going to stop, [but] I am hopeful that they'll see what their employees are telling them."

An attorney for Towards Justice said the outcome of the complaint could be one of the following scenarios: find a violation and order remedies; not find a violation and not order remedies; or not make any determination, which would allow Denver Health Workers United to file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of the state of Colorado.

The attorney added while monetary relief is possible under the law, Denver Health Workers United is just requesting Denver Health stop retaliating against workers who speak out.

Denver Health provided the following statement:

It is difficult for Denver Health Executive Leadership and Board of Directors to hear claims of systemic racism, retaliation and pay inequities in our institution because those go against all that our organization stands for, and the work we have been doing, and continue to do. Our organization is working hard to combat these issues for our staff and the community we serve.

Denver Health is committed to creating a work environment where all employees regardless of background, including gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, age and disability, are treated fairly and feel respected, supported and valued.

While we are unable to address specific employee charges for legal and privacy reasons, it is important to point out the many efforts Denver Health leadership and the Board are committed to as part of our on-going mission.

A major focus of our 2021 compensation program is advancing a long-term goal of achieving a living wage so all Denver Health employees can support themselves and their families. We provide opportunities for career growth for employees at all level of the organization.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are critical to our mission. We are currently developing a three-year Equity Blueprint to guide our efforts and ensure the actions we take are both comprehensive and strategic. The Blueprint will include recommendations around internal and external policies, clinical practices, and relationships with our communities. We are involving staff throughout the organization in this work to be as inclusive as possible.

Denver Health has declared systemic racism a public health crisis. As an Anchor Institution we use our influence and resources to address the many factors that impact a person’s overall health including the environment where they live and work, education and career opportunities, access to food, nutrition and high-quality clinical care.

We value open and honest communication and have systems in place such as our ValuesLine to protect staff against retaliation if they do raise concerns about the work environment or leadership.

We have been listening to our staff to hear their concerns and recommendations to make Denver Health a better place to work and provide world-class care for our patients. We have just completed a series of Town Hall staff meetings, where employees were able to talk directly with members of the leadership group. Denver Health is safe place where all employees and their views are respected and valued.