ST. PAUL — The unequal access to quality healthcare that Minnesota's Black communities and communities of color face is being scrutinized anew following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Amid nationwide calls for racial justice sparked by Floyd's death in police custody, Minnesota health experts and community organizers told Sen. Tina Smith on Monday, July 13, that poor healthcare access is reflective of a similarly poor access to stable housing and gainful employment. Exacerbating these issues is a pandemic that has thrust the United States into a recession and is disproportionately harming non-white citizens.
"It's like an earthquake," Smith, D-Minn., said of the coronavirus on a virtual round table talk Monday morning.
Panelists on Monday's discussion, which was broadcast online, said that the issues the new virus has brought back to light aren't new to the communities they affect. And it's regrettable that it took the police killings of Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor of Louisville, as well as the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, for more Americans to take note, said James Burroughs, Children's Minnesota chief equity and inclusion officer .
"You’ve got to realize the racial trauma caused by those incidents," Burroughs said during the discussion, in addition to those "that happened before and after."
Employers need to bear this in mind during the hiring process, Burroughs said, and can help in their own way to address systemic racism by setting recruitment goals for non-white workers. Rachel Hardeman, associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, said diversifying the healthcare industry workforce can not only improve trust between non-white providers and patients, but improves access to high-paying jobs.
The inability to pay for quality healthcare is oftentimes what prevents people from seeking it, panelists said. Bearing that in mind, Minnesota Community Care CEO Reuben Moore said the U.S. should seize this moment by investing in Black communities the way it did in Europe after World War II.
Addressing the lack of stable and quality housing some Minnesotans of color face might also help them to avoid visiting the doctor's office. That's especially true of Native American residents, said state Department of Health Indian American Health Director Jackie Dionne, who experience high rates of homelessness in urban parts of the state.
"You can have the highest-paid doctor seeing American Indian people, but if you still don't have those conditions improved, that doctor can only do so much," Dionne said.
Minnesota housing experts have previously raised similar concerns. Job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic could eventually lead to foreclosures and evictions, they say, forcing individuals into shelters and other crowded places to stay.
And for many, the loss of work also amounts to the loss of health insurance.
Foua Choua Kang, director of health and wellness at the Hmong American Partnership, added that there is a need to examine health outcomes in communities of color outside of ones that are known to be disparate.
"We’re measuring risks, we’re measuring outcomes of death, we’re measuring all these negative things," she said. "Let’s start measuring wellness and how to get there."