Critical Conversations: COVID-19, Vaccinations and (MIS)Information in Communities of Color

UMKC hosts discussion about facts and perceptions around vaccine hesitancy and availability for people of color

Community health leaders participated in a panel discussion on, “COVID-19, Vaccinations and (MIS)Information in Communities of Color.”

The Nov. 16 discussion was the tenth in the Critical Conversations series of panel discussions addressing systemic racism sponsored by the UMKC Division of Diversity and Inclusion. It was the second of the 2021-22 school year.

The Critical Conversations series is a part of Roos Advocate for Community Change, a campus-wide initiative launched in June 2020, which highlights thoughtful action on campus and in our community to ensure lasting and comprehensive changes. The goal of each Critical Conversation discussion is to enlighten, educate and explore the causes and potential cures for racism. Attendance to the discussions is free.

Panelist for this session included:

Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., professor, department of biomedical and health informatics, UMKC School of Medicine, and director of the UMKC Health Equity Institute

Liset Olarte, M.D.,  division of infectious disease, Children’s Mercy Kansas City

Qiana Thomason, M.S.W., president/CEO, Health Forward Foundation

Frank Thompson, interim director of health, Kansas City Health Department

Excerpts of the conversation are below. To view the complete recording of the conversation, click here.

History of mistrust in the health care profession by people of color

Olarte: Mistrust in the healthcare system stems from historical events related to discriminatory practices that have impacted communities of color that may continue to this day. The most known example of unethical experimentation in health care is the Tuskegee syphilis study which lasted 40 years. It ended in the in the 70s, so not that long ago.

This study targeted about 600 black men with and without syphilis, conducted by the U.S. public health service and the Tuskegee Institute. The study examined the natural course of the infection of syphilis in the participants, but they were not informed of the real purpose of the study. And what is more concerning is that once penicillin became the standard of care, the participants were not offered treatment. Syphilis can cause permanent neurological and cardiac damage, and can be potentially life threatening. This experiment has deeply impacted the relationship between the black community and the healthcare system.

Solutions in improving and tracking chronic condition management

Thomason: It's time for us to begin to look at the disparate outcomes that result in health injustices, and it's time for our states - Missouri and Kansas -  and our Federal Government to require the use of race, ethnicity and language data, so that we can ensure that we have the full picture. We cannot change what we cannot measure.

Providing healthcare where people are

Thomason: We’ve seen that the best and most promising practices here locally, as well as nationally,  focus on connecting underserved communities with health care services through channels that offer proximity and trust, like our faith-based communities.  

UMKC role in furthering virus information and vaccination

Thompson: The UMKC group that Jeannette Berkeley-Patton heads, has access to a faith-based network that targets the populations [in Kansas City] that are the most underserved in terms of vaccine access and distribution, and have been the hardest hit in terms of cases. One of the things I’m the most excited about is that the federal grants that allow us to get out and work with  community organizations that not only work with COVID awareness, but also around developing their own organizational capacity.

Improving overall health through community connection

Our medical system is set up to treat sick people. When you’re really talking about improving health, you need to talk abut relationships, so we need to think about how we restructure our medical systems. COVID is a really good litmus test. With COVID, more than ever before, we saw health services being pushed into the communities where people live.

Published: Nov 18, 2021

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