Spartacist Canada No. 190
On Racial Discrimination in Health Care
2 August 2016
I wanted to relate a recent experience I had at a major urban hospital in Ontario.
I managed to overhear a conversation between some healthcare professionals who were acting as primary care providers for a young black woman who had been admitted to the hospital with a sickle cell-related condition. I have included some links for comrades who are not familiar with this term or the disease sickle cell anemia [SCA].
Sickle cell anemia comes with excruciating pain (some people have committed suicide during a crisis) and can often result in death from a type of pneumonia associated with the disease. Generally, people in pain are usually treated for the pain. However, people with SCA are mostly black and the treatment is narcotic analgesic. Do you see where I am going with this? This black woman was not seen as a patient in need of treatment but rather a drug addict taking up valuable space in a hospital trying to trick the doctors and nurses into giving her narcotics.
Instead of pain medication, she was told to see an addiction counsellor. The discussion went on for a few more minutes and included statements about her brother who also has SCA and who had visited her earlier. They also deemed him a drug addict and felt his visits should be monitored as he may be slipping her drugs. Included in this conversation was the fact that this young woman did not have a job. She used to work but she was now on EI as she was “too sick” to work.
This woman miraculously dragged herself to the nursing station and announced “I want my medication now. Now! Or else Black Lives Matter will be demonstrating on the hospital’s front lawn in one hour.”
I don’t know if she still had to see an addictions counsellor. However, I do know that she got her medication.
This kind of racist treatment is not new to black people with SCA. In fact a doctor I know told me that blacks seeking treatment for pain are always suspected of being drug addicts and that their symptoms are never taken seriously. I know that most hospitals in Ontario do not have a dedicated team to educate and treat patients with SCA, although community agencies have been lobbying for this for years.
Hope this sheds some light on racism in health care.
P.S. Two articles about sickle cell anemia:
“One Disease Hits Mostly People of Color. One Mostly Whites. Which One Gets Billions In Funding?” Keira Jones (motherjones.com, 4 May 2015).
“Sickle Cell Disease: The Ultimate Health Disparity,” Gary A. Gibson (themartincenter.org, 2013).