Health Care for Black People in America

I’ve dedicated this blog to telling my family’s story about misdiagnosis and healing within the American health care system. It’s been a cathartic way to process my grief over what happened over nine years to my daughter, Sammi.

Today, you won’t read anything about that here.

I had a significant advantage all those years: I am a white woman. I was more likely to have health insurance (which I did, for me and for my family); I was more likely to be listened to (sometimes, I was!); I did not interact with doctors from a position of deficit in a system that is implicitly and sometimes explicitly devaluing my life and the life of my child. So today, I’m going to share some links to articles about what it is like to operate within that system for Black people.

Spoiler alert: it’s way, way harder.

The Century Foundation: Racism, Inequality, and Health Care for African Americans 

“African-American women are three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causesthan white women (see Figure 1).25 The African-American infant mortality rate is twice the rate for white infants (see Figure 2).26 African Americans are more likely to die from cancer and heart disease than whites, and are at greater risk for the onset of diabetes.27:

Nature: Millions of Black People Affected by Racial Bias in Health Care Algorithms

“An algorithm widely used in US hospitals to allocate health care to patients has been systematically discriminating against black people, a sweeping analysis has found…. the algorithm was less likely to refer black people than white people who were equally sick to programmes that aim to improve care for patients with complex medical needs. Hospitals and insurers use the algorithm and others like it to help manage care for about 200 million people in the United States each year.”

American Bar Association: Implicit Bias and Racial Disparities in Health Care

“…one study of 400 hospitals in the United States showed that black patients with heart disease received older, cheaper, and more conservative treatments than their white counterparts. Black patients were less likely to receive coronary bypass operations and angiography. After surgery, they are discharged earlier from the hospital than white patients—at a stage when discharge is inappropriate. The same goes for other illnesses.”

Zora: What No One Tells Black Women About Heart Disease

“A 2010 study from the American College of Cardiology found that only 3% of practicing cardiologists in the United States are Black. Having a Black doctor increased Boucicaut’s confidence in her treatment plan. ‘The doctor said he’d treated many people my age — mainly Black men — who had the same heart condition,’ she says. ‘That gave me comfort.’ Kalinowski shared a similar sentiment. “It is extremely crucial… to increase the pipeline of Black women and men who are addressing these issues,” she says. ‘We need to continue to invest in the diversity of researchers and providers who are researching these issues and committed to seeing these data turn.'”

NBC: Black Kids Get Less Pain Medication Than White Kids in the ER

“If there is no physiological explanation for differing treatment of the same phenomena, we are left with the notion that subtle biases, implicit and explicit, conscious and unconscious, influence the clinician’s judgment…”

Washington Post: The Disturbing Reason Some African American Patients May Be Undertreated for Pain

“Researchers at the University of Virginia quizzed white medical students and residents to see how many believed inaccurate and at times ‘fantastical’ differences about the two races — for example, that blacks have less sensitive nerve endings than whites or that black people’s blood coagulates more quickly. They found that fully half thought at least one of the false statements presented was possibly, probably or definitely true.

“Moreover, those who held false beliefs often rated black patients’ pain as lower than that of white patients and made less appropriate recommendations about how they should be treated.”

New York Times: Black Americans Face Alarming Rates of Coronavirus Infection in Some States

“For many public health experts, the reasons behind the disparities are not difficult to explain, the result of longstanding structural inequalities. At a time when the authorities have advocated staying home as the best way to avoid the virus, black Americans disproportionately belong to part of the work force that does not have the luxury of working from home, experts said. That places them at high risk for contracting the highly infectious disease in transit or at work.”


Though this blog focuses mostly on health care, it’s important to understand not only the extreme challenges in attaining quality medical attention as a Black person, but on the overall racist and structures that form the base for American society. There are many lists of articles and books you can read to educate yourself. This week, I also listened to several podcasts that formed a good introduction to this important consciousness-raising decent white people must undertake:

The Daily: The Systems That Protect the Police

Stay Tuned with Preet: Protest, Pain & Hope (with Karen Attiah)

Unlocking Us: Brené with Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist

Finally, please, if you do nothing else, watch this:

We owe this to our fellow Americans.

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The Cost of an Ear Infection

When my best friend visited me from Israel in the summer of 2006, her daughter — the same age as my younger daughter, Sammi — was recovering from an ear infection. Like Sammi, my friend’s daughter had been through a lot of ear infections that year, and my friend had been traveling with a small bottle of ear infection medication just in case. When they left after a week at my house, I found the bottle had been left behind.

I panicked. I started emailing, sending messages through Yahoo Messenger, calling her temporary US cell phone. I couldn’t reach her for two days, and I imagined her in a panic, desperately searching for the bottle of medication. When I finally did get in touch with her, she was already home.

“Do you want me to ship it back to you?” I asked. “I don’t know how much express shipping to Israel is, but I know how miserable these infections can be. How is she?”

“Nah,” she said. “It’s just an antibiotic. I’ll get more if she gets another infection. You can throw it out.”

“Seriously!?” I answered. “But just the whole hassle of going and getting another prescription…do you know for sure it wouldn’t be cheaper to send it to you?”

“What? No, it’s no big deal,” she responded. “It’s just a quick visit down the street, and the meds are, like…ten shekel?”

I did the calculation to dollars — about two dollars.

“Right, but the visit to the doctor,” I pressed. “How much every time?”

“Nothing,” she answered. “Nothing, it’s free. Wait, how much does it cost you?” Continue Reading…

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What I’m Listening to This Summer

podcasts

Someday, they tell me, the midwest will begin summer. For now, we’re in what I imagine mid-spring Seattle is like, with buckets of rain and temperatures in the hoodie-and-jeans range. However, I’ve lived in the midwest for decades now, and I know that we’ll go right from this to scorching summer. As soon as the cottonwood fluff clears from the air and my lungs calm down, I’ll be back outside, running along the lakefront, the same routes that have taken me out of my worries and onto another spiritual plane for the last eight years.

Moving my body in the early mornings past gardens and parks and not-yet-open cafes has always been a salve for me. I often say that I don’t like running but I like having run, but that’s not entirely true; I also like seeing and feeling the world on my own feet and at my own pace, alone, in the quiet.

But sometimes it’s too quiet. And sometimes it’s too early to listen to Salt-n-Pepa. That’s when I find podcasts to be just the thing. Continue Reading…

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Ten Gifts I Didn’t Deserve

grateful-sun-flowers

In the years I’ve spent as a parent, I’ve been humbled hundreds of times. Sometimes one of my daughters has a proclivity the other lacks. Other times, the health challenges of one make me see the relative good health of the other as anything but a given. Most often, though, I am humbled by the ways I see the challenges of other children and families. The things I took for granted always, always, reveal themselves to be as symptoms of my own ignorance. I could make the list below almost endless, pages and pages of gifts that no one is guaranteed but that I — somehow, luckily — was given. I will never take them for granted again. Never. Continue Reading…

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Just Show Up

showing-up

I’m thinking a lot about the phrase “show up,” as in, “be there” or “do the right thing” or “offer support.”

“Show up” as in, “put your face in front of the issue. ”

“Show up” as in “put your time and your body into something:” a cause, a friend’s crisis, a co-worker’s concert.

Show up: present, ready, open.

Continue Reading…

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