Medical workers speak out against systemic racism in healthcare

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) Systemic racism and the healthcare discrepancy between minorities and white people was highlighted at the “White Coats for Black Lives” rally.

One of the organizers of the "White Coats for Black Lives" rally, Jennifer Ribar, kneels for nine minutes in in memory of George Floyd, who died after Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis Police officer, knelt on Floyd's neck until he stopped breathing.

Hundreds gathered peacefully in Downtown Fairbanks to show that the medical community in the Interior desires equity for marginalized people.

“I’m embarrassed that it took the killing of minority men and women for me to say that is enough.” Carla Cartagena De Jesus, a pediatrician, said. “Embarrassed because it’s taken actual deaths of human beings recorded and made public for me to have a visceral response - knowing well that racism and inequity has been pervasive in our society all of my life and for much longer. I want you to take a moment and recognize that within yourself too, and acknowledge the role that your silence, our complacency has played in all of this.”

Medical workers kneeled in the Golden Heart Plaza to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We will be kneeling for nine minutes, you may become uncomfortable. We are asking you embrace this discomfort in your body as we reflect on the inequities in our nation,” Family Physician, Alisa Alexander said. “Reflect on the lives unjustly lost due to these inequities. These inequities have Alaska rated as number two in the country for rates of police killings of black and indigenous people per capita. That is a shocking and appalling statement.”

Cartagena De Jesus spoke on the discrepancy between the healthcare received by minorities compared to white people. “It’s well described in the literature that racism is a social determinant of health.” Cartagena De Jesus said. “Studies from Stanford have shown that minority infants in NICU’s have [the] worst outcomes and worst quality of care [compared to] other children, and these are infants.”

The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics also released a study where they observed California NICU’s between 2010 and 2014. According to the report compared with white infants, African American and Hispanic infants were less likely to receive steroid therapy, a timely retinopathy examination, or any human breast milk at the time of release from the hospital.

According to Doctor Jennifer Ribar this discrepancy is not just NICU babies. “People of color and Native Americans, Native Alaskans tend to have poorer outcomes in their healthcare, basically from birth and throughout their lives.” Ribar said. “A lot of it has to do, unfortunately, with their skin color and socio-economic background... and we are here to show our community wants to change that.”

A report from National Academy of Medicine found that racial and ethnic minorities receive lower-quality health care than white people -- even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable.

The report went on to say that minority persons are less likely than white persons to be given appropriate cardiac care, to receive kidney dialysis or transplants, or to receive the best treatments for stroke, cancer, or AIDS.

Cartagena De Jesus says this uncomfortable reality will not be solved overnight. “I think it’s really important to self-reflect what our thoughts are on the matter and how we have contributed to this.” Cartagena De Jesus said,“Then having open discussions, and then being able and willing to listen to others' opinions as well. Talking with our family members, our co-workers, our children about these issues... and then taking a stance on it and going out and acting -- joining advocacy groups here in town.”

Alexander says simply not being racist is not enough. “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist," she said. "We must be anti-racist. This is not a one-time demonstration, this is something in our everyday lives.”

This event was simultaneous with a Seattle and Anchorage rally.

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