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The Saint Michael’s Medical Center family gathered Friday in silent reflection for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in memory of George Floyd, a black man whose death has sparked global protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

The event was spearheaded by Dr. Hamid Shaaban, a chief medical officer at Saint Michael’s, who said Floyd’s death has been particularly harrowing and distressing for him and many of his colleagues at the hospital, which is located in one of the hardest hit COVID-19 areas in the country.

“Our hospital family has spent the past few months fighting to help COVID-19 patients in our community breathe and get just one more gasp of air,” Dr. Shaaban said. “How tragically ironic that his dying cry is not only the most dangerous symptom of COVID19, but it has transformed into the rallying cry of anti-racism protests around the world.”

Floyd died as a white Minneapolis police officer pushed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. His dying words were, “I can’t breathe.” Floyd’s death has sparked an international movement with calls for reforming and in some cases defunding police departments, as well as calling for an end to injustices.

Employees gathered in the Saint Joseph’s courtyard of Saint Michael’s held hand-made signs with slogans, such as “White Coats for Black Lives,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Racism is a Public Health Matter” and “Healthcare Heroes for Black Lives.” Employees knelt silently for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

“We will kneel because we categorically denounce racial prejudice and race-related violence,” Dr. Shaaban said. “We will kneel because many of us like myself have children of color and like myself we want them to realize their limitless potential so they may succeed.”

The event had the full support of the leadership of Saint Michael’s along with Prime Healthcare, which purchased the hospital in 2016.

“Recent protests and demonstrations throughout the nation underscore the importance of our mission of providing compassionate, quality health care to our communities — in particular, underserved communities,” said Elizabeth Nikels, vice president of marketing and communications for Prime Healthcare.

“Prime Healthcare stands together with our friends and neighbors against racism, discrimination, and violence of any kind,” Nikels said. “We take pride in the diversity of our workforce and the differing backgrounds, experiences, and opinions of our employees. Our differences define us as a company, as does the respect and empathy we show each other every day.”

Dr. Shaaban thanked the hospital and Prime corporate leadership for supporting the Saint Michael’s family.

“Their support allowed us to unite, come together and send a clear message to the community we serve that, just as they supported us during the COVID crisis, we will stand by their side as we fight the public health crisis of racial discrimination,” Dr. Shaaban said.

Dr. Shaaban said the recent protests reveal more than a “coincidental correlation” between the viral pandemic and the cruel consequences of the epidemic of systemic racism, which over the course of our history has been a major cause of increased illness and deaths.

“The pandemic has amplified the deepening racial disparities in health care,” Dr. Shaaban said. “Communities of color, like the one we serve and work with, have been disproportionately impacted by the spread of the pandemic partly because many of our patients are also ‘essential workers’ who are often more exposed to the virus because of the demands of their work and their economic situation.”

“The legacy of profound racism and pervasive discrimination in all of its forms has been kneeling on the necks and suffocating communities of color, blacks, Latinos and other minorities and essential hospitals like our hospital face this frustrating reality every day,” Dr. Shaaban said.

SMMC -- Silent Reflection for George Floyd -- June 12, 2020