Black women continue to experience systemic racism, bias and discrimination within the healthcare system in Arkansas and the US as a whole. That’s according to a new report by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families examining the state of Black women’s health.
The report, released Tuesday, finds women of color have an increased rate of morbidity for a number of conditions, including stroke, diabetes and heart disease. AACF Health Policy Analyst CaSandra Glover authored the report, and says much of that stems from unequal treatment by healthcare providers.
“We know that racism is engrained in the various systems that Black women must interact with daily, including our healthcare system. We know that this is also due to the intersecting identities that Black women have in the United States, whether it’s race, gender, class, sexual orientation, ability, ”Glover said. “The more intersectionalities that people have, the more disproportionately affected they’ll be by health disparities.”
Glover made her comments in a virtual panel discussion hosted by AACF to discuss the report, featuring Black professionals from a variety of healthcare fields. Also participating were Kenya Eddings, director of the Arkansas Minority Health Commission, and Dr. Tracey McElwee, community advocate and ambassador for the Fibroid Foundation.
Dr. Gloria Richard-Davis directs the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She said the generational and chronic stress often faced by Black women also contributes to negative health outcomes.
“Acute stress is actually good for us, it helps us to avoid or run away from danger. But when we have chronic tonic stress, it takes a toll on all of our organ systems. It increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, “Richard-Davis said.” It depresses the function, the optimal function of our immune system, which increases risk of cancer, increases risk of infections. ”
Richard-Davis says, on average, Black women are more likely to die from chronic conditions than other women, while nearly half of all Black women over 20 years of age have some form of heart disease. The disparity is especially evident in patients with breast and cervical cancer, with Black women on average dying at a 41% higher rate than white patients.
But, Richard-Davis says people of color receiving worse quality healthcare is nothing new.
“We know that health disparities are deeply rooted in the vestiges of slavery. And so that generational stress, which adds to increased chronic health conditions and disparities, is really a part of the racism that is embedded in our culture as well as our healthcare system, ”Richard-Davis said.
According to the report, maternal mortality among Black women is almost twice that for white women, while Arkansas’ maternal mortality rate overall is nearly double the US average. Richard-Davis says Medicaid coverage for postpartum care should be extended from the current 60 days to an entire year to help improve the rate of maternal mortality among Black women in Arkansas and the US as a whole.
Report author CaSandra Glover called for more Black professionals in the medical field, as well as for a comprehensive review of laws and policies that seek to perpetuate health disparities.
“In order to create meaningful systemic change, we need to create policies with an intentional racial equity lens,” Glover said. “This means understanding how systems and institutions work, and looking at how to improve outcomes throughout all systems that individuals must engage in.”