By Conor McCue

DENVER (CBS4) – In the emergency department at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, Dr. Vaughn Browne sees the worst of the pandemic every single day. CBS4’s Conor McCue spoke with him and other doctors as part of CBS4’s Elevating Black Voices series which highlights community members during Black History Month.

“We have seen a constant tide of severely ill patients since about this time a year ago,” said Browne.

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(credit: Vaughn Browne)

Throughout each shift, Browne’s immediate concern is with each of those struggling patients, but more so than ever before, his own health is on the line.

“The last year has been among the most physically and emotionally challenging years in the 20 years or so that I’ve been in emergency medicine,” Browne said.

At UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital, it’s been a much different experience for Dr. Lisa Wynn, an OB/GYN and service line chief for women’s services.

“We stopped elective surgeries and really anything that wasn’t scheduled and essential, and anything that wasn’t urgent we postponed,” Wynn said about the beginning of the pandemic. “We’ve just recently started to reopen elective cases.”

While Wynn hasn’t been on the COVID-19 front lines, she found another way to join the fight. Last summer she enrolled in UCHealth’s trial for the Moderna vaccine after her husband, Charles, signed up.

“She really spoke about importance of it, so I almost felt like a civic duty to participate,” Charles said.

“I grew up with the sense that you have to think about things beyond just yourself and your home, but think about how your actions can impact your community,” Lisa said. “For us, I thought it was important to participate in the trial because this was something we could do to make our community better.”

(credit: Lisa Wynn)

Wynn and Browne are among the many Black men and women going above and beyond amidst the health crisis of our time, but, looking across their facilities they see few colleagues who look like them.

That lack of diversity in the health care industry has spanned decades, but is once again a frequent topic of conversation after high profile deaths of Black people at the hands of police, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, led to protests and reinvigorated a push for changes in the country.

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“I think over the past year there’s been a much more concerted effort of patients seeking out providers who look like them,” Wynn said. “I’ve seen a lot more Black women as a result who are specifically seeking me out because we have good evidence that shows they have better health outcomes.”

“I think it’s extremely important that we not lose that momentum right now,” said Browne. “That we recognize that there are centuries of inequity that lie at the heart of the problems we’re seeing in our society.”

Browne, who is also an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, says a more diverse workforce starts when people get opportunities early.

“We need to have a pipeline of qualified, excellent students through middle school and high school who are receiving encouragement to pursue careers in medicine and science and who are getting messages that they’re capable,” Browne said.

It’s one of the many things in the works at Craig Hospital in Englewood, where Dr. Jandel Allen-Davis has been President and CEO for just over two years.

“There is evidence, there have been published studies that show when there is race and gender concordancy between your provider and you, we see the treatment adherence goes up, there’s a better sense of trust, there’s a sense that this person understands me and is listening,” Allen-Davis said.

(credit: Craig Hospital)

According to Allen-Davis, who began her career as an OB/GYN, retention and promotion are also crucial parts of having a diverse work force, and how qualified, but often overlooked candidates will get opportunities like she has.

Last year, Allen-Davis, an African American woman, was selected as one of the 25 minority leaders to watch by Modern Healthcare.

“I’ve been called a unicorn, to the lens of you just don’t see them, and I think the people who have said that view it as a compliment. I neither view it as a compliment or an insult,” Allen Davis said. “They’re a lot more common than you think, and we’re just not looking in the right places.”

While it may take years for changes to show results, people like Browne and  Wynn will keep carrying the torch, putting their health on the line every day, while lending their voice to a bigger cause.

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“There are many unsung heroes in our communities around this country, and many of them are minorities,” Browne said. “I think it’s important to recognize the contributions that they have made and to continue to encourage the increased representation of those people.”

Conor McCue