Racism in healthcare: A series of conversations

racism in healthcareSystemic racism and the legacy of white supremacy shape every facet of American life – including, importantly, our healthcare system. The system does not provide equal care to all, worsening health disparities baked into the system over centuries.

The Covid pandemic, spiking across the country here in November 2020, highlighted and made worse the cracks that already existed. Studies show Covid-19 is infecting Black and brown people at a higher rate than white populations, and killing them in higher numbers.

In this series of conversations, we’ll unpack how structural and institutional racism has shaped U.S. healthcare and has dictated who receives what kind of care. And we will share solutions that will put the country on a path to finally fix what’s gone wrong.

The series is brought to you by Everyday Health, the health information giant; WFAE Public Radio in Charlotte, North Carolina; and ClearHealthCosts, bringing transparency to health care by telling people what stuff costs.

During the run of the series, our Zoom link will be here; all the Zoom conversations will post simultaneously on the partners’ Facebook pages as “Facebook Live” events, and will be archived here.

Our guests and moderator

Netia McCray, guest

Nov. 11: As the Covid-19 death toll rises in autumn 2020, the risk calculation for the average American has been “even if I become infected, the chance of death is minimal.” But for Black millennial women who resided in Covid hot spots this past spring, the risk calculation is often much more freighted and much more stark: Is it a choice between supporting one’s household, versus death or a long-term, debilitating ailment?

Netia McCray laughing

Netia McCray will bring her unique science communication background to break down the “canary in the coal mine” regarding the long-term implications for America through her first-hand experience battling Covid-19.

In her grueling journey through the Coronavirus pandemic, McCray has thought multiple times that she was dying. A 30-something Bostonian, she is the founder and executive director of Mbadika (bah-GEE-kah), a STEAM non-profit organization dedicated to fostering youth-driven innovation and entrepreneurship, which she founded in 2010 as a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) undergrad. Her business was flourishing — until the pandemic hit. She became ill early on – and by May, when her partner asked her how to make her 30th birthday special, she asked him to help her set her affairs in order and make a will. Told multiple times that she did not have Covid because her symptoms didn’t fit the prescribed mold, and that her doctor could do nothing to help her, McCray by chance read an article by a young Black writer from The New York Times who had also been told her symptoms didn’t match. Black Americans are dying at a horrific rate from the pandemic. McCray wrote a passionate piece for The Boston Globe about her experiences, titled “The Impossible Burden of Being Black in America,” and also was featured in our interview of her.

Netia McCray

Mbadika, which means “idea,” is McCray’s creation, on a mission to support ideas and those who create them, no matter where or from whom they arise. Through hands-on workshops, a STEAM educational TV series and  DIY (do-it-yourself) kits, Mbadika has  supported thousands of aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs around the world, helping them   bring their ideas to reality.

Twitter: @Netiamccray | @Mbadika

Instagram: @Mbadika

McCray on LinkedIn

Go deeper

MLAB (Mbadika Laboratory) TV Show on YouTube

“Black Women in STEM are doing the work. Why do we refuse to support them?” on Sisterstem.org

Take action

Support Mbadika’s DIY STEAM@Home Kits for Students

PayPal.me/Mbadika
Cash.app/$Mbadika

Mary C. Curtis, moderator

Mary C. Curtis

Mary C. Curtis, a columnist at Roll Call, is an award-winning journalist and educator based in Charlotte, N.C., and Washington, D.C. She is host of the CQ Roll Call podcast “Equal Time, with Mary C. Curtis.” She has contributed to NBC News, NPR, The Washington Post, The Root, ESPN’s The Undefeated and talks politics on WCCB-TV and NPR-affiliate WFAE in Charlotte. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, the Charlotte Observer, the Baltimore Sun, and the Associated Press, and was national correspondent for AOL’s Politics Daily. Her coverage specialty is the intersection of politics, culture and race, and she has covered the 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns.

Curtis is a Senior Leader with The OpEd Project, facilitating “Write to Change the World” seminars, at Yale University, Cornell University, and the Ford Foundation and at the Aspen New Voices Fellowship in Johannesburg, South Africa. Curtis, a summa cum laude graduate of Fordham University, was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and a Kiplinger Fellow, in social media, at Ohio State.

Curtis was chosen to be included in The HistoryMakers, the single largest archival collection of its kind in the world designed to promote and celebrate the successes and to document movements, events and organizations that are important to the African American community and to American society; it is available digitally and permanently archived in the Library of Congress.

Her honors include Clarion Awards from the Association for Women in Communications, awards from the National Headliners and the Society of Professional Journalists, three first-place awards from the National Association of Black Journalists, two first-place SPJ DC Dateline awards, and the Thomas Wolfe Award for an examination of Confederate heritage groups. Curtis has contributed to several books, including an essay in “Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox.” You can find her work at www.maryccurtis.com

Go deeper:

Curtis’s website

Her Facebook page

Her Twitter

Instagram: @maryc.curtis

Curtis on LinkedIn

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Alicia Cole, guest

Obama shaking hands with Alicia Cole

Nov. 18: Actress Alicia Cole developed flesh-eating disease, sepsis and three life-threatening antibiotic-resistant infections after what was supposed to be a minor surgery in 2006.

But for all she went through, Cole recalls details of the racial bias she encountered at the hospital as clearly as the physical ones she suffered.

The experiences of Cole and her family over more than a decade of hospital stays turned her into a vocal patient safety advocate – and one of the very few people of color in the growing movement.

While bedridden and recovering from six additional surgeries, Cole, with a talk-to-type program, began blogging about her experience and advocating for quality improvements in healthcare. She helped co-sponsor and lobbied successfully for passage of two California patient protection laws.

Her story of survival and activism has been featured on ABC 20/20, The Doctors, Ask Dr. Nandi, CBS, Fox News and TeleMundo. Her collaborative efforts to improve health care and promote transparency have been profiled in HEALTH Magazine, Consumer Reports, US News & World Reports, HealthLeaders Media and the Los Angeles Times, to name a few.

Cole works with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others.

Cole on Youtube

Cole on LinkedIn

Cole on Twitter

Patient Safety ASAP on Facebook

Go deeper

The story of Alicia’s infections, with links to videos

“From pain pills to Covid-19, racial discrimination in healthcare festers,” Jayne O’Donnell and Ken Alltucker, USA Today

Part XIII of #uniteforsafecare virtual event, embracing those who are survivors of medical harm. Speakers include Alicia Cole, Monica McDade, Maria Fava, Jack and Teresa Gentry, all of whom suffered a traumatic experience in the hands of medical professionals.

Alicia Cole argues, from her personal experience and from her observations, that patients, while they may be unable to speak in official medical terminology, are more aware of what’s going on in their treatment than what healthcare providers give them credit for.

PatientSafetyASAP.org, the official website of the Alliance for Safety Awareness for Patients (ASAP), an organization formed by Alicia Cole and her parents, Ron and Betty Cole. “Our Mission: To educate and protect patients through awareness of hospital acquired infections such as necrotizing fasciitis, MRSA, VRE, sepsis and others. The Alliance for Safety Awareness for Patients, working in conjunction with established advocacy groups, healthcare providers and legislators, strives to end the spread of preventable hospital-acquired infections by empowering the public to make informed decisions, demand accountability from their healthcare providers and become proactive participants in their own health care.”

Alicia’s story on Patient Safety Movement.org.

“A patient’s perspective of hospital-acquired infections,” Alicia Cole, Joomag.org.

Take action

Alicia is on the Board of the Patient Safety Movement, which is conducting a fundraiser.

Priscilla Pemu, guest


ted talk video thumbnail

Nov. 25: Priscilla Pemu trains medical students and new medical doctors in the specialty of Internal Medicine.

In her research, which is informed by her daily experiences with patient care, she investigates the best ways to improve the long-term health of her patients who live with chronic illnesses.

As part of a team at Morehouse School of Medicine, she developed a system and method for chronic illness care that empowers patients to change their health behaviors through improved knowledge, support for goal setting and accountability in sustaining behavior change.

Her work brings attention to the impact of behavior on health and wellbeing among people living with chronic illnesses like diabetes and the doctors who care for them. She will talk about how to empower patients, their families and their communities — not so much in cataloging and documenting instances where bad things have happened in the African-American community and other marginalized communities, but rather in giving solutions so people can know better how to engage with tools and resources, based on her research.

Go deeper

Here’s her TED talk. 

Links to coaching opportunities at priscillapemumd.com.

For trustworthy medical information, go to Medlineplus.gov.

Joia Crear-Perry, guest

Dec. 2: Joia Crear-Perry, the founder and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, is a thought leader around racism as a root cause of health inequities.

Joia Crear-Perry

She recently addressed the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to urge a human rights framework to improve maternal mortality.

Previously, she served as the executive director of the Birthing Project, director of women’s and children’s services at Jefferson Community Healthcare Center and as the director of clinical services for the City of New Orleans Health Department, where she was responsible for four facilities that provided health care for the homeless, pediatric, WIC, and gynecologic services within the New Orleans clinical service area.

Dr. Crear-Perry has been celebrated for her work to improve the availability and utilization of affordable health care for New Orleans’ citizens post the Hurricane Katrina disaster of 2005. Currently, her focus has expanded nationally and internationally as it relates to maternal and child health.

@birthequity on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Twitter: @doccrearperry

Go deeper

Selected writing by Crear-Perry:

Take action

Visit National Birth Equity Collaborative to donate or support.