In many of the classes that I have taken in the department of Health: Science, Society and policy at Brandeis, we have talked a lot about the social determinants of health, structural racism, health disparities and how it affects people’s health. Many people of color in the U.S. have a scarcity of resources, live in poverty, are an underserved community and are at higher risk of developing health problems given their environment. Therefore, they are also less likely to get the support or help to overcome it.
Now with COVID-19, hospitals aren’t having regular in-person appointments unless it is absolutely necessary and so patients have their appointments over the phone. So, as we see the rise of telemedicine, we also see a rise in disparities. At the beginning of last month, my primary investigator sent out an email to our research team recommending us to watch a webinar called “COVID-19 is Terrible, But I’m More Likely to Die from Structural Racism” by Dr. Ayana Jordan. At some point in her webinar she said, “Tell me your zip code and I will tell you your life expectancy,” which really stood out to me.
If you think about this and look at the child opportunity index, you will see how Latinos and black children are the ones that mostly live in low opportunity areas and where there are high crime rates. What does this mean? It means that they live in poor neighborhoods where they don’t have access to a nearby hospital, or access to grocery stores to buy healthy food or even access to a good school. They just don’t have key resources like knowledge, money, power, prestige and beneficial social connections that can be used in numerous situations in different ways. But more importantly, these resources can be used a protective factors.
We all know how social conditions are linked to health outcomes. They live in this cycle that is never ending, and it’s all due to structural racism. Dr. Jordan also talked about how black people are more likely to get infected by Covid-19 due to structural racism because many of them hold jobs where they are not able to social distance and have jobs that are considered essential. Another factor is housing, meaning they may live in overcrowded conditions.
There are also natural barriers to social distancing, and one of them is lack of internet. She mentioned how everyone is talking about how you can view your doctor through technology, but many people don’t have access to internet. One of the projects I have been working on with the outpatient psychiatry clinic is calling patients with existing appointments to help them set up their upcoming video appointment. Only 66% of black people are able to have Telehealth appointments compared to 80% of white people. And all these injustices are inherently based on racist policies that dictate how people in the black race are able to grow, live, work and age, and people in power aren’t doing anything to help.