Systemic Racism in Healthcare

Victoria Benavides, Staff Reporter

More and more people each day are becoming aware of how racism is ingrained into every aspect of our society. It’s a disease that lives in our schools, correction centers, hospitals, and our own neighborhoods. Systemic racism can be defined as racism that is so commonplace within public institutions and our interactions with each other, that we don’t even notice it. Or, at least those unaffected by it don’t notice it. It’s not necessarily because racist individuals or groups run these institutions; rather, the way they’re implemented tends to disproportionately affect minority groups. For people of color, systemic racism impacts their everyday life.

This is the first article in a series where we’ll be reporting on institutional racism and its different lenses within our society. This issue looks at the racism that is present within healthcare. 

The race of an individual has an impact on the quality of healthcare they have access to. Disadvantaged groups are more likely to get sick and not receive proper treatment. This is due to a combination of reasons. People of color oftentimes aren’t as wealthy as white individuals. This means people of color can’t afford services such as regular check-ups or even life-saving surgery. Additionally, minorities often live in underdeveloped areas. Underdeveloped areas don’t have as many healthcare facilities and/or many facilities of quality. This furthers the disparity of minority access to healthcare. According to Medical News Today in 2020, people of color, especially African Americans have a lower life expectancy, higher blood pressure, lower rates of vaccination, and a bigger strain on mental health in comparison to more privileged members of society. This is all due to their inadequate access to healthcare.

Systemic racism amidst a pandemic is especially dangerous. In Illinois, black individuals are six times more likely to die from COVID than white individuals. Additionally, in states like Michigan and Wisconsin, where black individuals make up the smallest percentage of those communities but make up the largest percentage of COVID-related deaths. The coronavirus disproportionately impacts people of color and it costs them their lives. 

The first step to curing this system of institutionalized racism is to become educated on how we contribute to it. Health care providers have to address their own biases and call out colleagues for their biases as well. Health care professionals need to be actively anti-racist; Color blind mindsets only allow the issue to continue. To begin change, the problem has to be addressed. From there, Politicians can work on improving underserved communities. Providing grants to build higher quality facilities as well as ones accessible to all members of the community. Furthermore, there can be a bigger push from local governments to promote healthier lifestyles within their communities. As people, it’s our responsibility to advocate for equity and to speak out against systemic racism.