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'Appreciate what we take for granted': Alex Dass keeps focus on diversity

Alex Dass shown at work and in traditional dance regalia.

When meetings are online and our campus is eerily quiet, how does Salem Health stay connected?

Longtime nurse Becky Ruppert wanted to show our community firsthand how our hospital family is doing — so she began Connections, a series of candid interviews with people on the front lines at Salem Health.

Meet Alex Dass, our diversity and inclusion leader since 2015. Alex is also a professional Indian classical dancer.

What is your typical workday like?

I meet with stakeholder groups to strengthen our diversity focus.  I occasionally get involved in discrimination investigations and partner with our medical ethicist on policies to address equity and/or discrimination. 

I also meet with community partners like the Mid-Willamette Valley Health Equity Coalition, Salem For Refugees, Salem Multicultural Institute, Salem Human Rights Commission, Salem LGBTQ Rights Task Force, and other similar organizations. There is so much great work going on in our community around diversity, equity, and inclusion. I am especially excited about our own commitment to becoming a more equitable health care system.

What is something uplifting during the COVID-19 pandemic that has surprised you?

When I came to the United States seven years ago, I was surprised to learn that “How are you?” is most often a greeting and not a question. It bothered me to have to say “good” even if I wasn’t feeling good. In my culture, you didn’t ask someone how they were doing unless you really wanted to hear about their health, work, family, extended family, coworkers, vacation plans, dinner menu… you get the picture.

However, since the pandemic, people genuinely want to know how someone else is doing and are so willing to offer support and comfort.

I have been able to connect and reconnect with so many people during this time, whether it is other staff — as we worked together in labor pool — or others in the community. As we share stories and experiences, it is heartening to know that we are not alone in this.

What book(s) and/or TV shows are you enjoying now?

I am usually more into reading, but I have been hooked on three Indian TV shows since the pandemic. With time on my hands, I decided to subscribe to a channel. India is diverse in languages. In school, I was taught Hindi (one of the two official languages of the government, English being the other) and Kannada (the local language of the state I was raised in). I have become quite rusty in both, so this has been great practice for me.

My grandmother speaks Tamil and she loves her TV shows! I now watch one of her favorites and she gets very excited to discuss the plot and loopholes with me when I call her on the phone.

The only downside is that these shows usually have more than 500 or 1,000 episodes and I don’t think I can keep up with that!

What are you doing to maintain a healthy balance — at work and home?

I am a professional Indian classical dancer. Pre-COVID-19, I was involved in a number of dance productions and that forced me to leave my office on time to get to Beaverton for practice. I feel somewhat lost without that routine, but not motivated enough to practice with the same zeal every day.

If you had one message to share with everyone, now that we’re into month five of the pandemic, what would that be?

Continue to appreciate the things that we often take for granted. Both the pandemic and the tragic events around racism have affected each of us differently. Some of us are more fortunate than others. With immigration offices closed and with international flights cancelled, I am grateful for being here. Considering that thousands of immigrant workers have either lost their jobs or are unable get back into the country after a vacation abroad, I am grateful indeed!

What have you learned about yourself during the pandemic?

Like everyone else, I have learned to be flexible. Even my checklists are not so rigid anymore! I’m learning to take each day as it comes and not stress about next month or even next week.

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