The Reckoning For Racism in Healthcare Is Here: Is There Hope?

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Rana Mungin was fighting to breathe when she called 911. 

When the EMTs arrived, they treated her for a panic attack and left her at her Brooklyn home. 

Desperate for help, she made her own way to a hospital, where she was admitted, but they did NOT test her for COVID-19.

This was in the height of a pandemic. 

The doctors who saw the 30-year-old said her lungs sounded clear. Mungin was terrified she would contract the virus if she hadn’t already, so she returned home. 

A day later, she was on a ventilator, fighting for her life in the same hospital she was sent away from. 

Rana Mungin, a Black social studies teacher, died on April 27, 2020. 

Mia Mungin, her sister, said the attending MD told her that her sister “was the sickest patient they had.”

She tried to get help THREE times and was denied access to what could have been lifesaving treatment. 

Instead of being taken seriously, she was not believed and turned away.


Systemic Racism In Healthcare

Too often Black women are discriminated against when they see a doctor or healthcare professional.  

They are simply not believed when they voice their complaints and tell a doctor their concerns. 

Rana Mungin first became ill with a fever, cough, and shortness of breath in March 2020, and she sought treatment. 

She first visited an urgent care clinic, but they were short on COVID tests and treated her for an asthma attack. 

racism in healthcare

“Mungin’s condition worsened, and because she was too weak to take the subway to the nearest hospital, she called 911,” The Appeal reported

“When the ambulance arrived, the EMTs were convinced it was a panic attack, not COVID-19. One of them sat with Mungin, asking her questions to help her calm down.

“When he asked her about her long-term dreams and goals, she replied through labored breath, ‘My goal is not to die today.’”

She died a month later.

What Is Medical Racism?

Eric Bronson, of YWCA, explained “Medical racism is the systematic racism against people of color within the medical system.

“It includes both the racism in our society that makes Black people less healthy, the disparity in health coverage by race, and the biases held by healthcare workers against people of color in their care.”

Racism within the healthcare industry starts well outside of what we typically think of as medical care. 

“Black women are made less healthy by things such as increased levels of homelessness, or unsafe housing. 

“Similarly, environmental racism means that Black people are much more likely to develop health conditions like asthma, due to the prevalence of high-polluting industries in and near Black neighborhoods,” says Bronson. 

Racism In Healthcare: Lack Of Insurance

For Black women, a lack of insurance is worsened by state restrictions on reproductive health, often in states with large Black populations like Texas. 

According to The Guardian, “Maternal mortality there doubled in just two years after the state government eliminated all Planned Parenthood clinics, and cut the budgets for reproductive health clinics by two thirds.”

The Century Foundation reports “For African Americans, the average annual cost for health care premiums is almost 20 percent of the average household income.

“This is a major cost to bear, when taking into account income inequality and other economic challenges for this demographic.”

The high cost of insurance coverage has kept the number of uninsured and underinsured too high. 

racism in healthcare

“Of the 27.5 million people that still lack health insurance coverage, 45 percent cite cost as the reason for being uninsured.

“Furthermore, the Commonwealth Fund estimates that an additional 87 million people (adults aged 19 to 64) are underinsured.

“That is, they have coverage, but their plan leads to unusually high out-of-pocket costs relative to income that can lead to a strain on personal finances or even debt.”

Of these underinsured adults, 18 percent are African-American.

Other Obstacles

The biggest obstacle, according to Jamila Taylor, director of healthcare reform and senior fellow at the Century Foundation, is one that affects Black women regardless of their income, education, or baseline health.

The obstable is simply not being believed or deemed worthy of treatment. 

“A quality healthcare experience means a patient is listened to,” said Taylor. 

“But for Black people, their pain and discomfort are often ignored by physicians or assumed to be less severe than they describe.

“And providers often equate being Black with being poor, uneducated, drug seeking, pushy, or noncompliant.”

Remember when Serena Williams was treated for life-threatening blood clots in her lungs after giving birth?

The tennis icon wasn’t believed.

But she knew her medical history of blood clots and, gasping for breath, insisted on a CT scan. 

The nurse told Williams the pain meds might be making her confused. 

Williams advocated for herself and insisted — soon enough a doctor was performing an ultrasound of her legs. 

“I was like, a Doppler? I told you, I need a CT scan and a heparin drip,” she remembers telling the team.

“The ultrasound revealed nothing, so they sent her for the CT, and sure enough, several small blood clots had settled in her lungs. Minutes later she was on the drip. ‘I was like, listen to Dr. Williams!’”

Williams is a famous pro-athlete, well-educated, and rich as fuck. 

But she’s a Black woman, and they didn’t listen to her.

What Needs To Change

Even with insurance coverage expansion among minorities, the ever-present healthcare barriers need to be addressed and solved. 

Not only does medical racism exist, but it worsens the health of those experiencing it. 

A study published in the journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology found “racist experiences bring on an increase in inflammation in African Americans.”

The study concludes that an increase in inflammation increases the risk of becoming chronically ill. 

“The researchers of the study assert that, because the body’s response to stressors — such as the adversity of racism — results in compromising systems that are critical in fending off disease.

“Exposure to racism over long periods of time caused the health of African Americans to suffer greatly with chronic illness as the body’s defenses were down due to inflammation.”

The illnesses connected with encountering racism include heart attack, neurodegenerative disease, and metastatic cancer. 

“The study participants had similar socioeconomic backgrounds, which eliminated poverty as a stressor.”

Healthcare Reform

Healthcare reform is needed if a change is going to happen. 

This means promoting health equity and both acknowledging and addressing racism in the healthcare industry. 

This starts with policy.

Healthcare policymakers need to ensure that doctors and all other medical health professionals are trained to be aware of the problem.

When aware, they need to work to eliminate any bias. 

The American Medical Association (AMA) adopted guidelines that confront systemic racism in medicine in June. 

“Members of the AMA’s House of Delegates representing their peers from all corners of medicine voted to adopt guidelines addressing systemic racism in medicine.

“This includes discrimination, bias and abuse, including expressions of prejudice known as microaggressions,” the association reported

“The AMA will recommend that healthcare organizations and systems use the new guidelines to establish institutional policies.

“The policies promote positive cultural change and ensure a safe, discrimination-free work environment.”

The AMA’s Organizational Strategic Plan to Embed Racial Justice and Advance Health Equity can be read here


Addressing systemic racism in healthcare is long overdue — do you think enough steps are being taken to combat the dangerous issue? Tell us in the comments. 

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