port of harlem magazine
 
Theo Hodge, Jr. M.D.
 
From RSV To COVID-19, Racism Significantly Contributes to Health Disparities - A Mother's Call for Action
 
June 04 – June 17, 2020
 
Health

arthuretta holmes norton



My two years old daughter became lethargic with no warning signs. She had a fever of 100 and could keep nothing down. I took her to her pediatrician as an emergency visit. The doctor looked at her. He never examined her, not even her temperature. He told me to give her Tylenol and sent me home. 

Three hours later, her skin was hot to the touch. I took her temperature. It was 103 degrees. An outpatient center of Greater Southeast Hospital in Fort Washington, MD was my next emergency visit. They took her temperature and immediately ran an IV, took blood samples, and an oxygen tests. 

We waited about an hour when the emergency room doctor, who looked like me, informed me and her father that our daughter had respiratory syncytial virus or RSV. The virus had become serious for my daughter. No time to wait for an ambulance. With police escort, we rushed to the hospital. She was placed in an oxygen tent for almost two weeks. The medical professionals that looked like us saved her life.

How did this happen? How does this relate to what is happening with COVID19?  In 1995, RSV was a virus not quite epidemic but was affecting enough children to make the news.  Her pediatrician was negligent. When he came to the hospital, he did not look me in the eye. He never apologized. He simply said she will be okay and walked out.
 
As a result of the RSV experience, she developed juvenile asthma. Her allergist put her on too much medication and steroids in my opinion. So, I changed to a doctor who looked like me. They took her off each of the drugs. I changed her diet and she eventually grew out of asthma.

People think they can sue doctors for medical negligence. You can if you can find a lawyer to take your case. And even if you do, the laws in most states are such that doctors are protected from medical “mistakes” unless you can prove intentional negligence.

Let’s face it, we have a medical system that is profit driven. Accountability is only through the legal system and a system like this is structurally unable to handle an epidemic or pandemic. Not only does your health insurance determine the amount of care you will obtain, your race and age determine if your symptoms are even acknowledged.
 
Ten years after my daughter’s close brush with permanent lung damage, I worked at the Department of Health and Human Services in the Secretary’s Office. At the same time, I was pursuing a graduate degree in Health Communication. While researching health disparities I came upon a study completed in 2004 and released in 2005 by the Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ). 

The AHRQ report stated that the above factors were more important than access to insurance, treatment, and preexisting conditions. The United Nations, Centers for Disease Control, and numerous University research centers have conducted similar studies with similar conclusions. The study confirmed my life experience, not only with my daughter’s case but with my own health treatment and that of my parents and sons. 

Does unconscious racial bias exist? Yes. People have died and will continue to die due in part to intentional and unrecognized racial bias in the US health care system.  
So, I changed to a doctor who looked like me. They took her off each of the drugs. I changed her diet and she eventually grew out of asthma.
Since the Coronavirus pandemic appeared, Blacks people have shared stories of going to hospitals to request tests, with symptoms of COVID19, and being turned away. Some states have stopped publishing the demographic breakdown of those contracting and dying from COVID19. Like my daughter, their pain and their symptoms were marginalized. 
 
A recent study by the University of Virginia found that a Black person’s pain, even if that person is a child, is simply not taken as seriously as a White person’s pain. The choices between who dies and who lives; the half smiles or tart lips speak volumes to the “unconscious” biases. And the only avenue for regress is the medical malpractice mirage.

The United States had more COVID 19 deaths than any other nation in the world until Brazil took that title the last week of May 2020.  Black Americans are a disproportionate number of US deaths. The ineptness of the US medical system identified by numerous studies, which created and exacerbates Black American health outcomes, is rarely identified as a contributor to these disparities.

The US capitalistic health care system refers to patients as consumers. Health care is a commodity that is for sale. It is therefore incumbent on the consumer/patient to be knowledgeable about the service they are receiving, without a medical degree. 

Racism exists in the US medical system and is a contributing factor to health disparities and the mortality for Black US Citizens. The COVID19 virus just further exposed what was hidden in plain sight. 

Now, Black America what are we going to do?  In the words of Fredrick Douglas, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never has and it never will.”  Black America are you ready to demand? 
Holmes Martin is a former Deputy Director for Small Business and for the Department of Health and Human Services. She is currently a Virginia State Delegate to the 2020 Democratic Convention. She has written a resolution requesting that the Democratic Party recognize racism as a public health crisis much like The Franklin County (Columbus), Ohio Board of Health declaration of racism being a public health crisis.

 
 
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