Guest column: Racism still impacts the U.S. health care system – The Florida Times-Union

The goal of racism is to dehumanize, to cast light on a group that deserves no victimization. It is a precursor to sadistic behavior and callousness. It is the permission slip that the vile side of the mind needs in order to justify brutality. Racism opposes our creator’s wishes; it counters our duty to show love and compassion.
Although we have worked to abolish these beliefs, traces of racism remain and are clearly evident in many facets of American life. Specifically, racism can be found in a system that is often overlooked: health care.
As a country, we have unquestionably grown in the realm of race and integration in the medical field, yet the shocking truth of our racist history is evident if we look back only 70 years ago. In the early 20th century, unequal quality of care, the segregation of medical facilities and the exclusion of black Americans from a medical education were only some of the injustices faced. In addition, white medical workers relied heavily on their African American patients for experimentation.
For instance, in 1932, 600 African American men were deceived into taking part in a syphilis study to help find a cure for the disease. In reality, the uninformed black men were being injected with syphilis, which at the time had no cure and were then left untreated.
This brutal experimentation, known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, lasted for another 40 years. During that time, 28 participants had died from syphilis, 100 more had passed away from related complications and at least 40 spouses had been diagnosed with it. The disease had also been passed to 19 children at birth.
Congress later passed regulations for ethical research and informed consent. Participants in the Tuskegee experiment — primarily sharecroppers — were told they would get free health care and that they were being treated for bad blood. But systemic racism continues to impact medical care and research.
“You cannot think about the inequities in medicine without thinking about the racism in the country itself,” said Yemi Sokumbi, director of the Equity and Inclusion Council at the Mayo Clinic. “That is the root of the problem that has overflowed into … the house of medicine.” 
Among activists and academics, there has long been a realization that our country was never fully integrated. Although we expelled legal segregation, the landscape of de facto segregation still remains. Major causes of racial disparities in the health care system include lack of access  and an inability to pay for care. America’s racist history and its infringement on African American rights in the medical field have also led to a distrust in medicine by many African Americans.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the racial inequalities in medicine. As the dangerous coronavirus continues, controversy is forming about the current state of our health care system. Racial disparities are being seen in COVID-19 cases and fatalities. An appalling 60 percent of COVID-19 deaths in 2020 were African Americans, who make up just 13 percent of the US population.
“This is a multi-level problem. Socio-economic factors come into play. Also, comorbidities are more common in the African American community,” said Johanny Lopez Dominguez, a diversity and inclusion representative and medical student at the Mayo Clinic. 
In a recent article published by the New York Times, a prominent government figure claimed that his “celebrity” status had given him access to care that others did not have. While wealthier Americans are receiving the most sophisticated treatments, patients with less financial means — a group that disproportionally includes underrepresented minorities — do not have access to the same cutting-edge therapies.
“I think it’s become blatantly obvious that we have a current condition within our health care system that serves folks of a particular race just a little better,” said Sokumbi. “It tells a story that you have to look a certain way, live in a certain neighborhood and be from a certain group to get health care.”
There are clearly a variety of outlooks surrounding this issue, yet the stark racial disparities in health outcomes suggest that there are systemic biases built into the health care system. What will we do as a nation to resolve this controversial issue?
Banks Vadeboncoeur, a freshman at Ponte Vedra High School, discussed this issue in a CSPAN student competition in 2021 and was awarded third place.  She loves to write and hopes to have a future career in journalism. 


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