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Stop blaming Tuskegee, critics say. It’s not an ‘excuse’ for current medical racism

April Dembosky, KQED on

Published in Health & Fitness

“If you say ‘Tuskegee,’ then you don’t have to acknowledge things like pharmacy deserts, things like poverty and unemployment,” she said. “You can just say, ‘That happened then … and there’s nothing we can do about it.'”

She said the contemporary failures of the health care system are more pressing and causing more mistrust than the events of the past.

“It’s what happened to me yesterday,” she said. “Not what happened in the ’50s or ’60s, when Tuskegee was actually active.”

The seniors she works with complain to her all the time about doctors dismissing their concerns or talking down to them, and nurses answering the hospital call buttons for their white roommates more often than for them.

As a prime example of the unequal treatment Black people receive, they point to the recent Facebook Live video of Dr. Susan Moore. When Moore, a geriatrician and family medicine physician from Indiana, got COVID-19, she filmed herself from her hospital bed, an oxygen tube in her nose. She told the camera that she had to beg her physician to continue her course of remdesivir, the drug that speeds recovery from the disease.

“He said, ‘Ah, you don’t need it. You’re not even short of breath.’ I said ‘Yes, I am,'” Moore said into the camera. “I put forward and I maintain, if I was white, I wouldn’t have to go through that.”

Moore died two weeks later.

“She knew what kind of treatment she should be getting and she wasn’t getting it,” said Toler of L.A., contrasting Moore’s treatment with the care Trump received.

“We saw it up close and personal with the president, that he got the best of everything. They cured him in a couple of days, and our people are dying like flies.”

 

Toler and her neighbors said that the same inequity is playing out with the vaccine. Three months into the vaccine rollout, Black people made up about 3% of Californians who had received the vaccination, even though they account for 6.2% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.

The first mass-vaccination sites set up in the Los Angeles area — at Dodger Stadium and at Disneyland — are difficult to get to from Black neighborhoods without a car. And you practically needed a computer science degree to get an early dose, as snagging an online appointment required navigating a confusing interface or constantly refreshing the portal.

White, affluent people have been snatching up appointments, even at clinics intended for hard-hit Black and Latino communities, while people of color have had trouble getting through.

It’s stories like these, of unequal treatment and barriers to care, that stoke mistrust, Lincoln said. “And the word travels fast when people have negative experiences. They share it.”

To address this mistrust will require a paradigm shift, said Warren of Tuskegee University. If you want Black people to trust doctors and trust the vaccine, don’t blame them for their distrust, he said. The obligation is on health institutions to first show they are trustworthy: to listen, take responsibility, show accountability and stop making excuses. That, he added, means providing information about the vaccine without being paternalistic and making the vaccine easy to access in Black communities.

“Prove yourself trustworthy and trust will follow,” he said.

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(KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation. This story is from a partnership that includes NPR, KQED and KHN.)

(c)2021 Kaiser Health News Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC