Written by: Hana Mendoza 9/15/20
As I watched the Dr. Oz show today I cringed at hearing numerous black women from across the United States testify about the unethical treatment they have received at various hospitals. It made me sad and mad because, as a black woman here in America, I too have been a victim of our racist health care system. I have five children, have lived in inner-city areas all of my life, and am currently in my midlife years, so I think it is safe to say that I have had my fair share of doctor visit experiences. And just like I heard so many of the women on the show report, I have had to actively and persistently advocate for quality health care for my family and myself, while being grounded in not settling for the standard bare minimum or inadequate services that have been frequently delivered to African Americans for far too long.
African-American women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy related issues than white women and the African-American infant mortality rate is twice the rate of white infants. Across many chronic illnesses, African Americans are more likely to die compared to other racial and ethnic groups. As an involved mother with a community advocate spirit, I have done deep research and used my own experiences in working closely with my family’s doctors throughout the years to address my children’s and my own health care needs. Many times, my input was very valuable in the doctors’ development of comprehensive service plans. Some examples include 1) During the early stage of the delivery of my youngest son, my doctor quickly opted to do a c-section until I looked him straight in his eyes and said, NO WE ARE NOT going to do a c-section today, because I am having this baby natural. My son came into the world through my vaginal canal with no health issues. 2) After two years of seeing no real progress, I had to go over my daughter’s primary care doctor, to his supervisor to finally resolve her ongoing challenges with eczema., and 3) When my son battled leukemia in 2019, I had to stay on top of the nurses and doctors who serviced him to ensure that he received thorough care. Although I took time off from work to be present during his hospital stay, there were times when I needed to leave the hospital to care for my other children and myself. One day after being gone from the hospital during the day, I found my son dehydrated and in need of his next dose of medication that was due an hour before I returned. This was not acceptable and it was a crime shame that the only way I could hold the hospital staff accountable was to take time off from work to ensure they did their jobs.
Racism reaches every part of our society through police brutality, unfair and illegal employment practices, K-12 education and beyond, limited access to healthy and affordable food, and our health care system. Each one of these systems has one common denominator, racist employees in direct service, management, and executive positions that regard and treat African Americans as less than human. Because of this reality, in addition to their 9 – 5 jobs, responsibilities as family caregivers, and the ever so necessary work of taking care of themselves through it all, black women have the day to day burden of consistently educating service providers on how to treat them and their families with equity and thorough professional regard. For me this has been exhausting, but I do it with the intention that, as more and more African Americans continue to speak up and out about our health care needs, these issues will become more visible in our society and the health care system will change from a dangerous health disparity for African Americans to one that treats us with quality care and seeks to understand and implement services specific to our health care needs.
As a grant writer, I seek opportunities to secure funding for community organizations that work to improve, not only the health of our community members, but to also uplift their overall quality of life in various self-sufficiency focused areas such as education, employment, and housing. I am glad that I can continue to do my part in this valuable and sacred work. Thanks for spending the time to stay connected to this work and be sure to take good care of your health, both physically and emotionally. We’re going to need it for the fight ahead.