By MIKE MCGEE
The Dallas Examiner
Since March, Dallas County has had up to 63,428 confirmed COVID-19 cases, as of Aug. 17. This includes the 829 Dallas County residents that have died from the viral infection, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The Hispanic population of Dallas and Tarrant counties has been the most negatively affected by the virus in terms of the percentage of persons infected. Black county residents have the second-highest rate of infection.
This gives COVID-19 the notorious distinction of being one of the newest majority/minority health threats in North Texas – especially when considering the survival rate.
Those who recover from COVID-19 are immune for approximately 6 months, but can become re-infected, researchers at King’s College London learned earlier this month after repeatedly testing more than 90 people with the virus from March to June. Other unhappy conditions making COVID-19 more dangerous for all – but especially for local Hispanic and Black residents – are the facts that this is the time of year when West Nile Virus can also appear, and the fall flu season has not yet begun.
All could be disastrous for COVID-19 survivors with weakened immunity.
It is under these current conditions that the Texas Organizing Project and #SickOfItTX coalition partners hosted the virtual town meeting “Take Racism Out of Health Care,” July 31.
“The system isn’t broken. It is working the way it was designed to work. For years now we have heard about the poor access to medical care that Black and Brown families are subjected to,” TOP released in a written statement prior to the town hall.
“This COVID-19 pandemic is really highlighting a lot of disparities in our health care system,” voiced Grace Otuokere, a registered nurse and member of TOP.
“A lot of people in our nation are uninsured and unable to access health care treatment. This is a very important issue and something I’m interested in talking about, especially not just as a health care professional, but as an African American health care professional”.
She indicated that if Gov. Greg Abbott expanded Medicare and Medicaid coverage in the state it would be a step in the right direction to building an anti-racist health care system.
On a more personal note, it was revealed during the video that Isaac Henry, a Black leader in the health care justice arm of TOP Dallas, recently died from COVID-19.
“It doesn’t take much. We just have to look around us, particularly for those of us who are folks of color, and who have friends, who have family members, who have neighborhoods that we grew up in or live in and who are connected to communities,” Dr. Jamila Michener, co-director of the Cornell Center for Health Equity, urged during her segment of the town hall.
“We can look around us. Think about how many people we know who have gotten COVID-19. Think about the depth of our concerns for our friends and families at this very moment as we’re in the very middle of a global health pandemic, and it becomes really clear that health disparities are not just an abstract idea.
“They’re not just a set of statistics. They are the stuff of people’s everyday lives. They’re determining who gets to live and die.”
Dr. Cynthia Osborne, with the LBJ School of Public Affairs, provided historical context of racism in health care systems. She admitted that, despite flaws, the 1965 Social Security Act Amendments – also popularly knows at the Medicare and Medicaid Act of 1965 – created profound, positive changes for society.
Still, the two entities were developed for different needs, which she agreed have come to be more lopsided today.
“Medicare was seen as an earned benefit for the elderly, and the benefit levels, the eligibility criteria, they were all set at the federal level,” she explained.
“By contrast, though, Medicaid was paired with welfare programs and the implementation or programs was largely left to states. States can decide whether to participate or not,” as the program was meant to assist individuals, not doctors or insurance providers, Osborne indicated
“[States] can set their own income eligibility thresholds; determine sole conservatorships that are covered. Set payments to providers. And the variations to all of that is quite considerable still across the country,” 55 years later as the demographics of society has shifted.
Altering innate systemic disparities means getting the youth politically engaged, something that State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, District 120, espoused during the town hall.
“When we look at our health care system … Texas is one of the states that refused to opt-in to what they would call Obamacare. That in itself – the fight, the struggle to make sure that that piece of legislation stays alive, and grows and gets better, had racism all around it,” she intoned.
The representative further pressed that, from the time the Affordable Care Act was passed, up to today, “almost everyone” would be insured.
Gervin-Hawkins admitted as well that, as a businesswoman, “When we all put our pennies together, all boats rise together,” indicating that putting-in towards the well-being of a strong workforce also insures financial success for the largest number of people at a later time.
The town hall also investigated the cost of health care and the difficulty minority citizens often have in covering such costs. Also discussed was the issue of how being Black or Latino creates a higher risk of health issues being dismissed, incorrectly treated, or given a wrong diagnosis or wrong prognosis, regardless of income.
The full town hall video is available on the TOP Facebook page