The Tubman Center for Health & Freedom is Bringing #MedicineToThePeople

Open Arms bridges gaps in perinatal care access, education, and support for families across the Puget Sound, but our families have a spectrum of needs and our mission intersects with many other community organizations in King County. Our community partners are at the heart of our work, and together, we are stronger in achieving our commitments to equity, access, and justice. The Tubman Center for Health & Freedom is one of these partners and we are delighted to spotlight their work! This Q&A was conducted with Rokea Jones, Director of Research at Tubman Center and former Director of Doula Services at Open Arms.

What is the origin story of the Tubman Center for Health & Freedom? What is its vision and mission for the communities serves? Why invoke Harriet Tubman in its name?

The Tubman Center for Health & Freedom was founded by six Black and Indigenous community organizers in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. The health disparities exacerbated by COVID-19 became the call to action to address health and wellness from both systemic and clinical approaches. With the goal to practice medicine from the intersection of health and freedom, we address both the health of our patients as well as the factors that determine their health. When our flagship clinic opens to the community in 2025, Tubman Center will provide primary and preventative care, community resources, social services, political education, and advocacy.

We are named after the heroine Harriet Tubman, who concentrated on both freeing people from systems of oppression that threatened their health as well as providing clinical care for patients as a nurse in the Union army. We follow this same methodology of addressing health and wellness from both systemic and clinical approaches. As an abolitionist organization, we are seeking to offer a new model of care, free from systemically oppressive care that keeps us sick.

How does the current health care system fail marginalized communities, including Black, Indigenous, Latinx, LGTBQIA+, and disabled communities? How does the Center aim to change this?

Public health literature has no shortage of data illustrating the barriers that Black, Indigenous, and other people of color face when attempting to access healthcare. While there is less data for disabled, immigrant, and LGBTQIA+ communities, the existing data conclusively indicates that these communities also face structural and discriminatory barriers when attempting to access healthcare. These communities continued to be underserved.

Starting fall of 2022 we are offering services at our school-based health center at the Rainier Valley leadership Academy. We are currently slated to open our Flagship clinic by 2025. Tubman Health is a multifaceted health care system designed specifically to meet the health needs of communities of color and other marginalized groups. We are currently in our design, documentation, and evaluation phase. It is important to us that we spend time doing this work, so we do not simply replicate the existing models we know do not serve our communities adequately.

Tubman’s design process over the next three years includes events such as Community Visioning, Design Labs, and Simulations. Community members will come together to examine the built environment, soft arrangements such as systems and protocols, accessibility, navigation, affordability, policy, and measures of quality. The Tubman Center for Health & Freedom will utilize this data in the development of a transformative community health clinic designed for those who have experienced the greatest barriers to health.

What gap does the Blaxinate campaign fill when it comes to vaccination of Seattle’s Black communities?

Foremost, the conversation around vaccines must begin with the medical establishment acknowledging and taking responsibility for the medical distrust they have created in Black and Brown communities across the country through unethical research, mistreatment, and discrimination. Vaccine uptake by the Black community in our region is among the lowest in the state. We have launched Blaxinate to bring #MedicineToThePeople.

The Tubman Center for Health & Freedom supports patients’ medical autonomy and authority over their bodies. We will aim to provide our patients with the most accurate scientific and public health information available to aid in their decision-making processes. Blaxinate patients were catered to in a comfortable lounge environment and in our traveling “living room” there was no expectation for people to get the vaccine if they came to a Blaxinate event. People were invited to fellowship with us, ask questions, and enjoy snacks, and activities for the children. We created a safe community-centered environment and even the providers that joined us to administer the vaccine agreed that the “Tubman Way” was a new experience for them and they saw the benefits.

The Center recently published the Well US study – what was the purpose of the study, the results, and how will that inform the Center’s work moving forward?

The purpose of the Well Us study was to examine the ways in which the communities that are most often marginalized by the mainstream medical system tend to the health and wellness of themselves and their family members. We were not interested in continuing the deficit narrative frequently assigned to our communities in public health. Alternatively, we wanted to learn how people care for themselves, the types of healthcare they prefer, and some of the motivations behind their preferences for care.

We had four objectives for this report: inform the design of the Center; provide useful data to community partners in their work to improve the health of marginalized community members; inspire further research into how to redesign healthcare and insurance payment models to truly meet the needs and desires of the people; inspire future public health research with the community-centered research methodologies used in this study to center community and health justice in research methodologies and practices. Additionally, we want to highlight that researchers who come from the communities that are being analyzed is a best practice and that community participatory research is not synonymous with community-directed or community-based research.

Our findings were that:

  • Insurance does not always cover the preferred methods of healthcare.
  • The cost of healthcare-related activities is a barrier to access.
  • Marginalized people rely upon relationship networks to help navigate the healthcare system and remain healthy, this includes community health workers like doulas!
  • BIPOC, Disabled, and LGBTQIA+ community members utilize significant amounts of what is considered “alternative” medicine.
  • Vitamins and supplements are widely used to support health in marginalized communities
  • An overall sense of dissatisfaction around health insurance coverage and processes.

How can people get involved?

Tubman will be doing community outreach all summer at local events, so please look out for upcoming listening sessions and focus groups and come stop by a table! Also, please engage our website and read the entirety of the Well Us Study for yourself. People can also donate on our website via the green donation button on our website.