The word “culture” is defined as the customary beliefs, social forms and material traits of a racial, religious or social group. In more basic language, it’s the values and norms a group of people choose to follow as they coexist. Not unlike humans, a culture can suffer illness too. Current events prove the point.
Today, we are suffering terribly from the effects of the COVID virus. Our human existence has changed dramatically in a few short weeks. For those who have contracted the disease, the impact can be profound. For others, the requirements to wear masks, stay six feet apart, wash hands regularly and stay home has created big changes too.
And, as most of us now know, the economic impact to individual persons, and entire countries around the world, is significant and arguably will continue for some time to come. COVID has fundamentally affected both American and world culture.
Recently, our American culture took another blow. This one far less physical for most and much more emotional. With the arrest of a white police officer for the homicide of George Floyd in Minneapolis, we have once again been reminded of the harsh reality that being a person of color in our society is all too often a dangerous proposition. To quote an article I recently read, “America’s original sin has once again come home to roost.” It is a devastatingly stark reminder of the deep seeded schism that continues to erode the core of our culture.
As healthcare professionals, the topic is even more relevant. The issue of disparities in health-related services is something that has been extensively studied. The emerging COVID data makes the point very clearly. African-Americans comprise 14% of the U.S. population, but nearly 40% of the COVID-related deaths; a shocking statistic. Furthermore, it has long been known that black people in America have less access to care and achieve worse health outcomes across all age groups, genders, educational attainment and economic status. To make the point clearly, on average, Michael Jordan and Serena Williams have less access to care and achieve poorer health outcomes compared to whites in the same gender, educational and economic status. It’s hard to believe, but given the data, true.
Our American culture is sick, both physically (COVID) and spiritually (racism). Unfortunately, the impact of two serious “illnesses” at the same time is very significant. Neither will simply “go away,” as they require treatment. Basic logic suggests a starting point of acknowledging “the patient is sick.” The physical disease is much easier. COVID can be diagnosed scientifically. Appropriate treatment protocols are emerging. Conversely, racism is more insidious, often fomenting just below the patina, until a situation like Mr. Floyd’s happens, and raw emotions boil over.
Living in an area with fewer minorities than many other places in America, it may be easy for some to simply ignore the issue. It may not seem real nor particularly relevant. My purpose is not to judge the response of others. However, to be abundantly clear and blunt, we will eliminate disparities whenever and wherever we can, to include race, gender, sexual preference, social status, economic status, educational attainment, religious affiliations and any other category one might think of. We are all God’s children and as such, each individual deserves ready access to the best possible care we can provide whenever it is required.
Martin Luther King, Jr. often coached those around him to “never be afraid to do the right thing.” He’s right about that. In the BVHS world, that means the absolute best we have for every single person, no matter what…
Scott Malaney, CEO & President
Blanchard Valley Health System