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Our Unequal Pandemic: Healthcare

Posted on March 9, 2021

Housing is Healthcare

As previously covered, disparities in housing have prompted racial inequities in the pandemic, and a history of racism and discrimination in healthcare has only worsened the inequities.

But even more pointedly, it's also the intersection between housing and healthcare that has led to Black Americans being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

In a comparison done between Ward 8 - where residents are more than 90% black - and Ward 3 - where only 5% of residents are Black, researchers found huge disparities. The average resident in Ward 3 will live 16 years longer than the average resident in Ward 8 due to a lack of hospitals, education, and public transportation. There is only one hospital in Ward 8, despite such an obvious need for more healthcare options.

And because segregated neighborhoods are more likely to be near highways or factories where air pollution is greater, Black Americans are also more likely to have asthma. Scarcity of grocery stores and fresh produce also result in higher numbers of obesity in Black Americans.

But unfortunately, location isn't the only barrier Black Americans face.

A History of Racism

Racism in healthcare - more specifically, undercover, overtly racist experiments on Black Americans - has bred a strong distrust of medicine in many individuals. The Tuskegee experiment, the eugenics movement, and Henrietta Lack's regenerating cells - to name just a few - have caused trauma, harm, and a distrust that won't be easy to rebuild.

And even when Black Americans seek treatment for healthcare problems, they are less likely to receive the help they need.

Healthcare disparities during COVID-19

Unsurprisingly, healthcare disparities were worsened during the pandemic. There were various cases of Black patients being turned away from testing, a lack of testing sites in low-income neighborhoods; and now, vaccine distribution is proving that DC continues to prioritize high-income, majority white residents.

At Thrive, we see a lot of clients held back by a system that continually puts up barriers. Why do you need internet access to receive a life-saving vaccine? Why are vaccinations at homeless shelters only reaching a small number of people? Why are testing sites and vaccination sites only in certain neighborhoods?

We are working with our clients to break through these barriers.

When flu season brought concern about the ongoing pandemic exasperating the flu, we partnered with the Rodham Institute to give free flu shots to our clients and community. When there was a lack of testing in Ward 1, we teamed up with Core Response DC to offer coronavirus testing on site. When clients without internet access and a phone were unsure of how to sign up for the vaccine, we closely monitored the vaccine rollout, attempting to sign up our clients who qualified.

Looking Towards the Future

So we ask what we asked before and will continue to ask: how do we as a community and city enshrine equity in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Moving forward, everyone needs to be included in the conversation. DC's Council Office of Racial Equity states that marginalized groups should be a part of budget and policy making processes to ensure that "more inclusive choices are made."

At Thrive DC, we believe that every person has the potential to thrive when offered dignity, caring and compassion and we will continue to act as a one-stop-shop for individuals and families in crisis. At the same time, we will advocate for state and local governments to ingrain equity in our response so that residents who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 come out stronger.

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