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Chancellor Washington Provides His Thoughts About Recent Tragedies

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Good Morning Colleagues,

Life is precious. Most mornings, I awaken with a sense of gratitude and a renewed spirit, excited about the day ahead. The last few days, however, have been quite different. I have struggled to maintain my usual expectant energy and attitude. My heart has simply been heavy and overcome with sorrow, and like many of you, I have no words to ease this pain.

The unconscionable and senseless death of George Floyd in Minnesota, along with the appalling shootings of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, leaves me overwhelmed and speechless. I am deeply troubled by the systemic racism and injustice that continue to plague our country and tear families apart. Like many of you, I am feeling vulnerable and afraid for my community, my colleagues, my friends, and my family. As a black man, these events hit particularly close to home.

Last week also marked the tragic milestone of more than 100,000 people in the U.S. losing their lives to COVID-19. This virus has now killed more people in our country than the Korean and Vietnam wars combined. African Americans and other minority communities are disproportionately affected by this ravaging disease. The pandemic has highlighted the devastating effects of social neglect and the inequities in health and health care that afflict our community, the region and our nation.

Both of these tragedies are sobering reminders of the difficult work we must all do to address the root causes of suffering in the communities we serve. And they again remind us at Duke Health why we have been, and will always remain, committed to reducing health disparities. But the senseless acts of racial violence call for healing of a different kind.

So let us at Duke Health stand together as exemplars of the very attribute that makes us incredibly strong -- our value for diversity. Let us reject demonstrations of hatred and choose to preserve an inclusive environment that respects one another and appreciates our breadth of experiences and perspectives. Let us continue to lift our community and nation with endeavors that are instrumental in providing the highest quality of care to all we serve, robust and innovative education to the next generation of providers, and the most advanced research to serve our global family.  

Please know that I understand how distressing these inexplicable moments may be to each of you and your loved ones. As I indicated above, I am deeply troubled as well. Our work does not end with this letter. We must create safe places that allow us to advance this conversation to better understand how the unfolding events impact us as individuals, as an organization, and as a community. I assure you that Duke Health leadership is dedicated to developing solutions that help strengthen us and shape a stronger tomorrow.

With appreciation for your unwavering strength and commitment during these unsettling times,
 
A. Eugene Washington, M.D.
Chancellor for Health Affairs, Duke University
President and CEO, Duke University Health System

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