Despite a rainy fall night on campus on October 25, the Henry Ford Health + Michigan State University Health Sciences Health Equity Film Series held a powerful conversation around health disparities in the Black community.
“It was a powerful moment in the room when people started to understand the history of health and health care in the United States through the lens of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice. It was impactful for our intergenerational and multidisciplinary audience; whether they attended virtually or in person.” said Marita Gilbert, Ph.D., who serves as the Henry Ford + MSU DEIJ Committee chair and is the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine associate dean of Diversity and Campus Inclusion.
During the event, participants had the opportunity to view the full film, Power to Heal. The film tells the story of a poignant chapter in the historic struggle to secure equal and adequate access to health care for all Americans.
“It is our responsibility that every time someone walks into our clinical space that we see them as humans,” said Krista Walker, Ph.D., Michigan State University College of Nursing DEI Assistant Dean. “It is up to us that we treat them and provide them with quality care, and if we don't do that, people die.”
As the film explains, Medicare was signed into law 58 years ago. Before Medicare, less than half of the U.S. hospitals served black and white patients equally. Then in the South, one-third of hospitals would not admit African Americans even for emergencies.
“I thought the film was informative,” said Amari Jefferson, MSU College of Nursing pre-nursing freshman. “There was content that I already knew, but the film emphasized and provided more information on how strong of an impact the health disparities had on the black community at that time.”
MSU College of Nursing Sophomore Alanna Poole also had an emotional response to the film. Majoring in pre-nursing, Poole was shocked to learn the full extent of the health disparities that the Black community faced during the Civil Rights Movement. Health disparities such as Black babies dying at twice the rate of white babies in the north and south, which continues to be a problem to this day.
“I think we often do a great job of preparing our students with the content knowledge,” said Gilbert. “But connecting social determinants of health, health policy and history of how we got here, I think sometimes that gets lost.”
One major historical moment being when the federal government ended the practice of racially segregating patients, doctors, medical staffs, blood supplies, and linens by withholding Medicare funding if hospitals did not desegregate.
“The film was a reminder, and made it absolutely clear, that there was systemic racism and it’s still there,” said Cristian Meghea, Ph.D., a MSU College of Human Medicine associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology, who is also a principal investigator for the recent $19M NIH-funded Maternal Health Research Center (MIRACLE)
Following the screening, online and in-person attendees were divided into groups to further discuss these historical health disparity moments and how to implement change in their work and lives.
“Our group discussed what action could be taken to fight these health disparities in our health care clinics and offices,” said Lee Anne Roman, Ph.D. a MSU College of Human Medicine professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology. Roman is collaborating with Meghea, Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, and with multiple community and health partners on MIRACLE to test new community health worker models to coordinate community-based and clinical care of pregnant and post-partum African American and Hispanic birthing individuals including visiting them in their homes.
“This event was a great opportunity to meet others and discuss these health disparities,” said Meghea. “But we really need more of our team members in person to continue the conversation and take steps to make the changes.”
The Henry Ford + MSU Health Equity Film Series is sponsored by the Henry Ford + MSU DEIJ Committee and Michigan State University College of Nursing. The next film will be shown in early 2024.