Black Health Matters: Racial Disparities in Healthcare Still Exist During COVID

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Deborah Gatewood. Dr. Susan Moore.

We remember their names and untimely COVID-19-related deaths that took them both close to the start of the pandemic and also in December last year.


These were Black women, medical professionals, influencers in their own right and COVID-19 victims who were denied treatment from the very healthcare systems to which they belonged.


Gatewood worked at Beaumont Hospital in Farmington Hills and was turned away four times trying to receive treatment, according to a Fox 2 news report. Moore was a Black doctor from Indiana. Their stories are similar, yet distinct, on how they came down with COVID-19 last year and sought medical intervention but died from the denial of care.


Dr. Moore knew what to ask for as she was being treated for coronavirus and strongly felt she was not receiving the best treatment.


Dr. Moore, who died on December 20, said in a video she posted online days before that “this is how Black people get killed when you send them home and they don’t know how to fight for themselves.”


And as weeks turn into months and months add up to almost a year, COVID-19 is still rearing its ugly head along with the equally ugly racial disparities in the healthcare system.


For Monike Thomas, 50, of Farmington Hills, the racial disparities with COVID-19 hit a little too close to home.


Thomas told The Michigan Chronicle that mid-March of 2020 she, too, was turned down twice at local healthcare facilities in Dearborn and West Bloomfield when she came down with COVID-19 symptoms after a trip to the grocery store.

Monike Thomas, pictured center (with her children) survived COVID-19 after not giving up and continuing to seek medical assistance after being turned away two times from local health facilities last March. Photo provided by Monike Thomas

She had just come from Atlanta (where her college-aged twins attend school) and while leaving the store after shopping her body felt strange.


“I kept going through the store (and) I felt sick. I felt like I couldn’t walk,” Thomas, who shopped without a mask at the store at the early stages of the pandemic said. “Then I walked out — I could barely walk.”


She then drove herself to Henry Ford in Dearborn and after asking her a series of questions they told her to self-quarantine after ensuring her low-grade fever wasn’t out of control.


Three days later her symptoms (roller coaster chills, fever and loss of taste) became worse. She went to West Bloomfield Hospital and they took her temperature and encouraged her to self-quarantine again after they thought it wasn’t too serious.


Finally, the third time she went to a drive-up COVID-19 screening where a screener asked for her name and she couldn’t get it out.


“I couldn’t say it, they immediately rushed me to the hospital,” she said where she was put on oxygen. “I felt like my heart was about to bust out my chest. I was crying. … it was really, really bad.”


Ten days later she made a full recovery after trusting her doctor who gave her medication and a steroid shot to break her fever and improve her health.


Thomas, who was emotional about her experience during parts of the interview, said as a community “we still have a long way to go” in the country regarding health.


“As a Black woman we already go through so much but to try to prove (you have COVID-19 symptoms) it’s like at what point do you just {get} help?” she said. “It is important that we hold folks accountable and get the service we deserve.”


Because of these major issues of inequity, many healthcare and health-based entities are stepping up to the plate in a major way.


Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan COVID-19 Task Force on Racial Disparities released a 24-page interim report in December detailing the strides Michigan has made in protecting communities of color from the spread of COVID-19. The Task Force is chaired by Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II and consists of government, health care and community leaders.


“From the beginning, our administration has listened to medical experts and taken a fact-based approach to eliminating COVID-19 in our most vulnerable communities, and we have seen significant progress,” said Whitmer in a press release. “Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist and the leaders on the Task Force have been crucial in helping us dramatically reduce the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in communities of color by expanding testing and providing crucial support to community organizations. Our work is far from over, and cases and hospitalizations are still rising statewide, but this team remains dedicated to working with medical experts and protecting our communities, frontline workers and small businesses. Our immediate focus now is holding our progress, flattening the infection curve and remaining vigilant with mask wearing and social distancing.”


Brenda J. Jegede, manager of the Office of Equity and Minority Health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, told The Michigan Chronicle that systemic inequities are not new.


“Racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to experience social, economic and environmental inequities and racial and ethnic minorities have less access to healthcare,” she said. “Historically there has been mistrust in relationships between racial and ethnic minorities and the healthcare industry.”


She added that racial and ethnic minorities experience more discrimination and bias in healthcare.


“The mission of the Office of Equity and Minority Health and its main responsibilities are imperative to monitoring disparities in health outcomes and in identifying and implementing policy and strategies that support community-driven practices to address systemic inequities and social determinants of health,” she said.


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