In the middle of one pandemic, we are so painfully reminded of another.
Racism is as insidious as it is intractable. No simple vaccine will save us from it.
The tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis was devastating for the sheer viciousness of the attack. But it was also devastating because it was neither an anomaly nor surprising. Memphis and the Mid-South, like other communities around the country, have their own tragic history of racial injustice. It is part of our collective story. How we continue to shape our story going forward is up to us.
Racism is incubated in ignorance. It then infects society through distrust of each other, prejudice within the justice system, and impoverishment through the economic system. These then create cascading and compounding consequences on critical levers of life, such as education, housing, employment, personal safety, and, yes, health and well-being.
The larger corporate community of the Mid-South has a critical role to play because we wield such influence and power. Diversity is our nation’s greatest strength and large institutions must lead by example in how we hire, how we promote, what we pay, the inclusive culture we foster, and how we interact with the communities we serve.
Health care institutions, like ours, play a significant part because of the nature of our work. We are on the front lines of community health. Health is the baseline pre-requisite to anything else a society or community hopes to achieve.
The indisputable fact is that communities of color are disproportionately suffering from a host of public health challenges. It is unacceptable that African Americans have shorter life expectancies and higher infant mortality rates. It is unacceptable that access to quality care can depend on someone’s race. These distressing realities are a direct consequence of the tragic history of racism just as sure as what we all witnessed in Minneapolis.
The solutions are as complicated as the causes and they are not exclusively at the feet of health care systems, any more than fire prevention is the sole responsibility of firefighters. It requires everyone working together to address the underlying causes of health disparities, such as education, nutrition, economic security and other variables impacting health.
We, the leaders of the health care systems in the Mid-South, recognize that we must continue to do better in reaching at-risk populations. We must develop more effective intervention strategies. We must make engaging with our system easier and more practical. We must advocate more for critical public health resources.
As great as the challenges are, we believe that better days lie ahead. The human spirit is indomitable and innately compassionate. You see this every day in your friends, neighbors and colleagues. We see it every day in our hospitals; in the care we give to our patients in our surgical suites, our emergency departments and our diagnostic centers. We see it in the compassion our caregivers show to every patient who walks through our doors every hour, every day.
Together, we can heal from the deep viral infection of racism. It will take time. It will require honesty and personal ownership by everyone. And it will require us to use the terrible experiences we are living through to fortify our resolve and keep moving forward.
Reginald Coopwood, M.D.
President and CEO
Regional One Health
President and CEO
Baptist Memorial Health Care
President and CEO
Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare