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Improving health care for Black women

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Improving health care for Black women

I am a patient of the Indiana University Health System, and I can very honestly share that I’ve had extremely positive experiences and outcomes. I’ve met many talented, capable and caring staff members who were very responsive to my needs and concerns. I also vividly recall instances where I had to be a vociferous advocate for myself. I’ve always believed we are our best advocates if we are able to speak for ourselves. Nonetheless, I had to advocate loudly and intensely.

The IU Health System is in the headlines due to a situation that reflects poorly on their hospital system and further blemishes Indiana — the death of Dr. Susan Moore. Our state once again gains national coverage for another instance of glaring inequality. Unfortunately, Indiana already has a reputation of events and actions that were racist, homophobic or showed disregard to human life.

I’m incredibly saddened by Moore’s death. Her experiences highlight the realities that one’s educational attainment, professional status or economic wealth cannot erase the pall of racial discrimination that too often goes unabated in our health care systems nationwide. The Tuskegee syphilis experiments, the development of gynecology and the experience of Henrietta Lacks are all emblematic of the differential health care treatment Black women have received throughout American history.

The clear racial disparity in health care is an issue I’ve been working on for some time. There is a lot we can do. One way we can improve care for Black women is to ensure that we are encouraging more people of color to find careers in the health care industry. My proposal in the Indiana Senate, Senate Bill 292, would create a scholarship for minority students who commit to working in health care roles in Indiana after they graduate. This is one step we can immediately take to make sure that our health care system reflects the diversity of the general population.

Now, IU Health System has indicated they are taking this overt display of racial disparity extremely seriously, as they should. Dr. Moore exposed this bias with her own life. IU Health has established an external review team comprised of renowned physicians from across the nation considered to be medical thought leaders in both clinical care and cultural competence. The team will examine the care provided to Moore, within the context of bias and racism in health care. The team will also examine the importance of cultural competency, diversity and inclusion in workforce decisions, patient experiences and family communications.

The results of this investigation could serve as a national model to be emulated or noted by other health care systems nationwide. That would be a beneficial outcome.

However, the most succinct and simple solutions would be for all health care professionals to check their biases at the doorway to the hospital and come to work prepared to listen to their patients, no matter their ethnicity, religious observances or gender identification. Clinicians must realize their patient is the most knowledgeable about what they are feeling or experiencing. They must treat their patients with the respect deserved by every human being. This should be the most basic starting point for any discussions attempting to respond to the racial inequalities that exist in hospital patient care. In the meantime, I will continue to use my role as a state senator to champion a more diverse and equitable health care system for all Hoosiers.

Indiana Sen. Jean Breaux represents the 34th District.

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