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Profile in Leadership – Liesl Santkuyl

As the driving force behind one of our newest initiatives here at NLF, Leaders in Women’s Health, we are so incredible blessed to have a coalition of more than 50 community members who care deeply about improving issues of equity embedded in our healthcare systems. We recently had the chance to sit down with one such person, Liesl Santkuyl, who serves as the Coalition Coordinator.

How long have you been involved with the initiative?

“The initiative only became an initiative of NLF in April of this year, but I have been involved in the Leaders in Women’s Health coalition since it began in 2011.  I was working with the MultiCare Health System at the time and Jackie Ostrom, the Executive Director of the Carol Milgard Breast Center brought me and my counterpart from the CHI Franciscan Health System together to see how we could best impact some of the stark health disparities in cancer we see here in this county.  We formed as a coalition after an initial health assessment conducted by NLF galvanized a group of African-American leaders to take action collectively to increase health outcomes for African Americans, particularly around breast cancer.”

What else from your own personal experience prompted you to be involved with this work?

“First, I am a woman of color. My community, the Latino and immigrant community also experience worse health outcomes, and this is not okay for my community, for my sisters who are African-American, or for anyone.

I have worked in health care and community health for 30 years, and I know we can, working together, make an impact and change this for the better.  I know the only way to do this is to call attention to it; to not let it go unnoticed, to work hard to address the barriers for both individuals and systemic or institutional barriers.”

What are some goals you have for the initiative in regards to its impact in the community?

“Our overarching goal is not only to increase health equity, but to involve and include leaders who best know their own community and can figure out better than anyone else how to ensure the health of their community. Supporting this work and goal-setting is extremely important.  We do direct outreach to our communities as well as advocate for system reforms.  We are mainly working in Tacoma and Pierce County, but are not only limited to this area, as we advocate on a national and state level for health equity.”

What is the most rewarding thing about being involved with LIWH?

 “The incredible women I get to work with!  They are an absolute inspiration and they keep on advocating for people daily.  This group is filled with love and devotion to community.  It is a faith-filled group that makes a difference daily.  It shines.  It is unified.  It is love. I love to serve this incredible group of women.”

If you were to sum up LIWH in a nutshell to someone who knew absolutely nothing about it, what would you say?

“Leaders in Women’s Health is a community of African-American and other women of color who are active in their community, who truly enjoy keeping their community healthy, are engaged in their community. We fight health disparities because we envision a world where all people have access to all aspects of health. Leaders in Women’s Health is leadership from the community FOR the community.”

Lastly we asked Liesl what LIWH means to her.

Liesl genuinely replied, “It means working toward justice is about building it together.  We make a just world together, inclusively and with love.”

Liesl is truly a leader in women’s health.

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