Meredith Zauflik: Representing the research mission in the Covington response

Meredith Zauflik smiles in polka dot dress in front of ivy-covered wall.

Meredith Zauflik, M.P.A., recruitment and special populations program manager at the OHSU Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute, or OCTRI, represents the research ranks on the Oversight Committee. We sat down and talked with her about her work with the Covington response committees. 

In March 2021, OHSU retained Covington and Burling to lead an independent investigation regarding “inequitable treatment, discrimination, harassment, bullying, or intimidation [at OHSU] based on race, color, religion, national origin, disability, age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or gender expression.”

Covington completed its investigation in December 2021 and issued investigative findings and recommendations to address institutional cultural challenges.

Following Covington’s findings, OHSU convened two committees: An Implementation Committee focused on Covington’s recommendations and an Oversight Committee charged with holding the Implementation Committee accountable. The Oversight Committee reports to the OHSU President and Board of Directors.  

How did you come to be on the Covington Response Oversight Committee

My supervisor Kitt Swartz knew that my background included working with women and children who had experienced domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. My professional background has been a mix of ethics, advocacy, policies and applied research. Based on this, she nominated me for the committee, and I was happy to accept.

What is your approach to the committee’s work?

I went in as a hopeful skeptic, which is generally how I approach culture change — and I think that reflects the attitude of many OHSU members. OHSU has a history of harm and trauma, and many OHSU members are skeptical that there will be change – there has been no outcome to date that members feel shows that OHSU is serious. It makes sense for us to doubt whether there will be change until we see change.

That said, over my six months on the committee, I’ve moved from hopeful skeptic to very hopeful skeptic. I’m more optimistic about change now.

What caused you to become hopeful?

First, it’s important to understand the structure. There are two committees — the Implementation Committee is made up of leadership from each of the missions and the Oversight Committee is primarily composed of rank-and-file OHSU members.

The Implementation Committee drafts policy and other documents and sends them to us — the Oversight Committee — to review. We have about a month to take that information to our stakeholders, review and discuss and make recommendations for changes.

The reason I’m a bit more hopeful now is that the Implementation Team has really listened to our recommendations and incorporated them into the policies. They don’t always accept all of our recommendations — but it’s a transparent process. We explain to them why we think a change is important and they listen. They tell us why they can’t accept a recommendation — and that is huge.

An iterative process

Our first steps were to determine process, create a charter and write the description of the new executive vice president for human resources/chief people officer position.

Our process is very iterative, meaning that the committees send a document back and forth a few times, making changes and explaining the reasoning behind the changes. The policies and other documents are really a result of this process.

“The Oversight Committee’s role isn’t one of just approving or not, we provide feedback on and help create the policy itself. Overall, the members of the Oversight Committee have been impressed with the level of input we have actually had. That has made me much more optimistic.”

From the beginning, it was clear that the Implementation Committee would listen to the Oversight Committee. When a document arrived in oversight, we read the document, discussed and revised it, and returned to Implementation for their response.

The Oversight Committee made a number of recommendations to the first two documents we looked at – the charter and the executive vice president position description. That’s when we saw that our input would be taken seriously. The Implementation Committee accepted a number of our recommendations.

Both committees communicate strong opinions with respect and a lot of transparency. When our recommendations are not accepted, the Implementation Committee tells us why. For example, with some policy changes as well as with the position description for the new executive vice president role, there are legal constraints that we need to work within.

Change: Accountability, reporting, disciplinary matrix

In the last few years, OHSU has talked a lot about reporting. But reporting structures are decentralized and hard to understand. When reporting is decentralized, it can also lead to oversight in terms of someone being reported multiple times, but to different groups within the organization.

Decentralization has also led to there being lots of different policies — some of those are conflicting. When there’s no real consistent truth in terms of what is allowed and what is not allowed, it becomes impossible to determine if a policy has been violated. There are also different outcomes for the same policy — is termination on the table, for instance.

So, all policies across OHSU are being reviewed and made consistent. It’s a monumental project, but really important to success.

We are creating one point of truth for policies — it will be clear where you report, what the  policies are on discrimination, harassment and retaliation and a clear disciplinary matrix. Right now we’re revising and finalizing the disciplinary guidelines and matrix.

Trauma informed

I came into this project with a background of working with those who had experienced trauma and trauma-informed practices. What is new to me is learning trauma-informed systems change on an organizational level.

Dr. Alisha Moreland-Capuia begins each of our meetings with a different aspect of trauma-informed systems change. I have learned so much.

This approach, that centers people’s experience and their lives and keeps harm prevention in the forefront of our thinking, is another thing that gives me hope about the process and the possibility for change.

For example, there’s been discussion about the need for the new centralized reporting system to provide an ongoing, de-identified log available to the community.

Using a trauma-informed lens and very iterative process, we are discussing this through our SBAR and policy reviews now. It’s been suggested that this could be a top-level matrix with information on how many reports there have been, how many are under investigation and what the outcome is – adding to transparency with the OHSU community.

Again, it’s this commitment to transparency and valuing and integrating the Oversight Committee’s feedback that gives me hope there will be substantial change.  Working on the Oversight Committee feels good, it feels important and like OHSU members are truly being listened to.

Covington Resources

On July 11, committee members Meredith Zauflik, Bonnie Nagel and Dana Director held a town hall for the research mission. View the recording. View the presentation slides. The recording and slides are public.