Antiracism Must Reach Healthcare

The past month of protests, marches, and demonstrations have brought a burning light to the racism that has been an ingrained part of our nation since its inception. Racism has touched every system we utilize in our daily lives and nationwide governance, including the very system designed to keep us healthy and alive. The healthcare industry is built on racism which has led to disparate outcomes in disease occurrence, care, and outcomes. 

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Healthcare and Race

Black Americans experience illness and health issues at the highest rates of any demographic in the United States. This includes chronic illnesses, like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. These chronic illnesses are linked to many social determinants of health such as limited access to grocery stores, reduced ability for safe exercise, and noncomprehensive health education all of which are typical of historically redlined districts.

Programs like Medicaid have been expanded in a majority of states to help more economically disadvantaged and black communities attain insurance and medical coverage, but several, largely southern, states have refused to do so. These southern states have not only worse overall health compared to states in other regions, but typically have the largest racial differences in health outcomes as well. While expanding Medicaid has helped in some areas, the expansion has come with higher demands for work and income, which has resulted in loss of coverage for the poorest communities of color in certain states. 

Expanding Medicaid does little however, for the system-wide provider shortage in low income communities. This major healthcare barrier forces Black and Hispanic Americans to rely heavily on small community health, urgent care, and out patient services which are ill equipped to deal with long term care of illness in large numbers.  

Maternal Health and Race

Along with homicide, gun violence deaths, and infant mortality, one sector of human health that is most effected by race is that of maternal health. Black women die at a rate 3.3 times greater than their white counterparts due to complications from birth either during delivery or up to a year postpartum. The US has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the industrialized world, and it is one of the only health sectors that has worsening rates in recent years. The worst part of this crisis is that three out of five of maternal deaths are preventable. 

These deaths, usually due to excessive bleeding and hypertension, are contributed to a lack of access to health care, missed or delayed diagnoses,  presence of chronic conditions, and lack of trained intervention according to an NPR and CDC report. Chronic diseases, lack of access, and systemic bias of caregivers are far higher among Black mothers than white ones. Without cross-communication between low and high income hospitals and proper anti-racism training of all health care workers, Black women will continue to not be listened to and needlessly die at significantly higher rates. 

COVID-19 and Race

Unfortunately, the current pandemic virus gripping the globe is no different and other health issues. While data is still preliminary and not reported or collected from every state, the common trends of higher disease infection and death rates among Black communities are beginning to come forward. Thanks to the research done by American University's own Antiracist Research and Policy Center, the COVID Racial Data Tracker is revealing these patterns in real time, and not allowing them to be forgotten or discounted as more and more research about coronavirus piles in.

sign saying fight today for a better tomorrow Markus Spiske / Pexels As we continue to push the conversation about racism in our nation, we cannot leave any system, industry, or sector of our society in the shadows. Americans spend the most on healthcare per capita of any country in the world, and yet Black folx are contracting diseases and dying at rates far higher than white Americans. As Doctor Neel Shah said "it's becoming more clear that disparities have more to do with racism than race." I think that it is also becoming clear that these deaths and disparities will no longer go unnoticed by the American people. 

Sources: 123 ,45

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