How The Pandemic Highlighted Minority Health Disparities & What We’re Doing About It
Last Updated: 06 Apr 2021
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How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected black Americans? Here’s what you need to know.
In August of 2020, the CDC released data showing that Blacks (along with Latinos and American Indians) were experiencing hospitalizations at rates up to 5.5 times higher than non-Hispanic whites. If viruses do not discriminate based on skin color, why has the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected black Americans? To look deeper into the subject, we spoke with Laillah Guice, a clinician for The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Endeavors in San Antonio and a military Veteran. As a black woman, Guice has both a personal and clinical take on the subject.
“If 2020 showed us anything, it’s really the disparities that blacks have in America,” said Guice. “The pandemic brought out so much of where we’re falling behind with healthcare, along with education and social justice.”
She explained that, while these disparities were already present before the pandemic, this global health crisis magnified them. “If you talk to a black person, this is nothing new,” she said. “What happened in 2020 was not a surprise, but everyone else got a chance to see.”
Health Disparities Perpetuated by the System
“Who was dying the most because of Covid? Minorities,” said Guice.
Research by The COVID Racial Data Tracker, a collaboration between the COVID Tracking Project and the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, proved this. Their findings have shown that Black people have died at 1.4 times the rate of white people nationwide since the pandemic began.
“We’ve lost at least 73,462 Black lives to COVID-19 to date,” explains the Data Tracker’s site. “Black people account for 15% of COVID-19 deaths where race is known.”
While there are many factors at play, Guice points out healthcare disparities as a contributor.
“Black Americans have a history of poor treatment in our healthcare system,” she said. “Even now, as it’s evident that the virus is affecting Black people more than white people. We’re not being vaccinated proportionally.”
She’s referencing the fact that Black Americans are receiving a smaller share of the available vaccines across the country than their white counterparts.
“People of color are getting vaccinated at rates below their representation of the general population,” Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of President Biden’s coronavirus equity task force, explained at a recent forum on the vaccine. “This narrative can be changed. It must be changed.”
“The pandemic is pointing out that there is systemic racism within our healthcare system,” said Guice. As an example, she pointed out that black women have a lower breast cancer survival rate. Plenty of other similarly alarming statistics illuminate the disparities at play, leading states and cities across the country to declare racism a public health crisis.
Guice recalled memories of her grandmother’s suspicious views of the American healthcare system. “Growing up, I never knew my grandmother to go to the doctor unless it was absolutely necessary,” she said. “I just thought that was who she was, but as I got older, I realized she didn’t trust doctors. She didn’t believe they had her best interest at heart.”
Mental Health Disparity: Racial Battle Fatigue
The disparities don’t stop at physical health. An equally alarming gap shows up in mental healthcare in Black communities.
Guice explained that part of this is due to “racial battle fatigue,” a term coined in the early 2000s by University of Utah researcher William A. Smith.
“The psychological symptoms are so exhausting when you’re dealing with racism…after a while, you become frustrated and angry. It’s tiring, and it can cause health issues.”
Researchers examined data from the National Survey of American Life, a study of more than 5,800 American adults -– 60 percent of whom were African American. More than 40 percent of the African Americans surveyed recounted receiving some form of racial discrimination, and nearly 5 percent suffered from Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Guice explains that this can be especially true for black women. “I’m very mindful of what I say. I may say something, and then a white woman says the same thing, but I sound like I’m angry. So I’m constantly mindful. It is exhausting.”
It can also be difficult for Black clients to trust white clinicians.
“I know that when it comes to mental health, a lot of Black Americans are fearful of seeing other clinicians outside of their race because they feel like they are not going to relate to them,” said Guice.
She encourages these clients to, “Learn how to advocate for yourself. If you feel like you aren’t being heard, speak up.” She doesn’t believe you don’t have to be Black to help someone who’s Black. “You should be able to help someone where they’re at,” said Guice.
This is why it is crucial to us that our clinicians receive robust diversity training. Giuce recommends all the programs we have at Endeavors. “It’s been proven that they do reach the Veteran communities,” she said.
Regardless of color, race, gender identity, or sexual orientation, the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Endeavors is committed to providing robust and thoughtful care to all our clients. The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Endeavors, San Antonio provides high-quality, accessible, and integrated mental health care to Veterans, regardless of role while in uniform, discharge status, or combat experience, active duty service members (with a TRICARE referral), and military families.
For more information on how the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has had a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minorities and other vulnerable populations, visit The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD)’s page on National COVID-19 Information and Resources.
About Laillah Guice: Clinician & Veteran
A Clinician for The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Endeavors, San Antonio, Laillah Guice is a Licensed Professional Counselor who served 20 years in the military. Laillah’s areas of focus are military sexual trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), combat traumas, non-combat traumas, and couples counseling. When she is not serving her family, Veterans, and military families, Laillah is serving her community through speaking engagements, sharing her knowledge and expertise to empower others to stay on the path of mental health.