Comment: R-88 assures best students, workers aren’t overlooked

Health care and other fields need well-educated applicants. R-88 would aid equity in opportunities.

By Adam Jonas / For The Herald

As a physician, I see patients in the hospital who need high quality and high-tech care to survive.

Innovation drives our health care industry to improve patients’ quality of life and help patients get well and stay well. But innovation can only happen when the brightest minds are at the table. That’s one of many reasons why we at Kaiser Permanente support Referendum 88; our state needs key talent and ideas from every community.

Referendum 88 — affirming the Legislature’s earlier adoption of Initiative 1000 — would restore fairness for all Washingtonians. It would ensure that veterans, people with disabilities, women, and communities of color can compete fairly in public university admissions, job applications, and public contracting opportunities. We see this as absolutely necessary for innovation to thrive in our state; we also believe it is morally necessary to support the fairness we all hold as a shared value.

Securing a job in the health care industry starts with access to quality science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. Kaiser Permanente is proud to support Washington STEM and Everett Public Schools to bring more STEM curriculum and more health career-track curriculum to students, but these efforts aren’t enough to ensure that the brightest students have access across the state. Passing R-88 would ensure that resources for STEM education are fairly distributed across our state so all students have the chance to shine.

Once students have a taste of STEM and health care jobs, they need access to post-secondary education. Our state’s excellent universities and colleges, such as Everett Community College and Edmonds Community College, need the opportunity to level the playing field for applicants. Veterans, women, people of color and people with disabilities need equal opportunity to apply and enroll to these schools, but it’s not as simple as welcoming them. First-generation applicants may need help navigating the complex systems, veterans may need reorientation to civilian education and lower income people may need assistance finding funding. When we step up to ensure everyone has access, we’re advancing the best talent to staff our future workforce.

And finally, we need to make sure graduates have fair access to jobs. We know statistically that hiring managers tend to offer jobs to people culturally similar to themselves. Without resourcing training to undo this, organizations are unlikely to change. Veterans also face exclusion from jobs when hiring managers don’t understand military resumes or the value of military experience. R-88 allows our state to level the playing field to make sure the best and brightest are hired.

At Kaiser Permanente, we have seen the difference that prioritizing fairness can make. Since 1974, Kaiser Permanente has worked to make sure the best and brightest from all communities, abilities, and experiences have fair access to jobs and that we provide excellent care to every patient. Our efforts are apparent in our workforce, which is consistently rated among the most diverse and best places to work for people of color, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ individuals. There’s no reason Washington state can’t achieve the same.

Imagine that our next Einstein is an honorably discharged veteran or a young girl of color in a lower-income community. Under our current system, their talent could go unseen because of biases in our education, hiring and contracting systems. With Referendum 88 our state can ensure these talents compete equally with other candidates and that they have an equal shot at resources and opportunities. We can make sure the best ideas aren’t left behind.

Our community is best when we support our best, regardless of their background. Please join me in voting yes on Referendum 88. Together we can help the most promising talents shine and foster more and better innovation in Washington state.

Dr. Adam Jonas is district medical dDirector for Snohomish at Kaiser Permanente.

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