Last year America faced a significant reckoning on racial justice, with protests and marches taking center stage. The topic is not new, of course, and Lexington has been addressing these issues for years with the annual Martin Luther King Day Community Conversation on Race. Now, though, a global pandemic has brought another set of inequities to the public conscience. The racial disparities in healthcare are deeply rooted and hard to change, but this year’s Community Conversation is taking one small step towards progress.
Every year, the Human Rights Committee chooses a different topic for the event, and the 2021 talk will focus on healthcare. Planned for Monday, Jan. 18, the conversation is the centerpiece of a full day’s worth of activities meant to raise awareness about social injustice and give back to the community.
The Community Conversation on Race will take place at 10 a.m. on Zoom. It will feature Congresswoman Katherine Clark and two doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital who specialize in this area: Dr. Jocelyn Carter and Dr. Allison Bryant. Participation is free, but space is limited. Spots can be reserved at www.lexingtonmlk.org. LexMedia will also stream the talk live, and make it available for on demand viewing later.
Bryant is a leader in this field, working as a high-risk obstetrician and serving as the MGH Vice Chair of Quality, Equity and Safety. She described witnessing these inequities every day, and the personal toll it can take.
"It's exhausting. Frontline healthcare workers are burnt out because we've been worried and scared, seeing people who are sick,” she said. “For people who also care about equity, it's been doubly exhausting and devastating."
Healthcare disparities exist for many reasons, all tied to the structural racism that underpins America, she said. The quality of healthcare that a patient receives and how easy that care is to access are all disproportionally slanted toward favoring white people, she added.
Everyone carries implicit bias, Bryant argues, including doctors. She cited a classic study where patients of different ethnicity were given the same set of heart conditions to read to randomized doctors. It found that the cardiologists were more likely to recommend treatment for white men than others, she said.
"No one thinks the cardiologists are all bad, it's just that we all have these underlying biases that then affect what we do in a healthcare setting," Bryant said.
In obstetrics and gynecology, the gap in terms of maternal mortality is significant, Bryant said. Black women are three to four times more likely to die than white women either during childbirth or within a year of pregnancy, according to Bryant.
On top of it all, COVID-19 has made matters worse. This is largely because not everyone has the ability to follow guidance given by doctors on how to spread the virus. Black and Latino patients are more likely to hold “essential” jobs like administrative roles in hospitals, grocery store cashiers, or in public transportation. They still have to show up every day and risk exposure to the virus, but are also more likely to live in multifamily, multigenerational homes, she added. In many instances, it’s not possible to isolate from the other people in these households. Bryant has seen wide disparities in both who gets the coronavirus, and who gets very sick and dies from it.
..."We need to be aware and be present in our own communities. I go Mass General every day and I spread this word, but I don't really do that within the town I live in," she said.
...“The COVID lockdown finally brought to light what many of us has known for some time, that there are significant racial disparities in healthcare,” Roy said. “Having this conversation is a chance to make people understand that we are killing people, literally killing people by not addressing these systemic inequities. This is a chance to save lives.”
Getting Congresswoman Clark to participate was also not a given, Roy said. Although the HRC knew she cared deeply about the topic, Clark has been plenty busy in Washington, D. C. following the storming of the Capitol last week. But Melanie Thompson, part of the working group for this event, was instrumental in this effort, according to Roy.
I am so pleased to be part of the organizing group for this event and glad that attention has been drawn to the important issue of racial health disparities, especially on MLK Day,” Thompson said. “The fact that our Congresswoman is going to attend and share her thoughts on this topic highlights the urgent need to address the inequities of our healthcare system.”
Original story here.