Christa Harris

Christa Harris, MSN, RN, is the Rehab Services Manager at OhioHealth Mansfield and Shelby Hospitals and serves on a chair at the Health Committee for the local NAACP.

Editor's Note: This is a monthly educational series about racism. Contributors include Donna Hight, Beth Castle, Margaret Lin, Deanna West-Torrence, Renda Cline, Tiffany Mitchell, Crystal Davis Weese, Brigitte Coles and Amy Hiner.

Saturday in my household is pretty routine. Laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping and touching base with loved ones keep me busy. The conversations with friends and family can be as simple as, “how are you doing” to a more detailed conversation that turns into me giving medical advice. 

While I don’t mind being a source of information for my loved ones, it highlights a huge problem we have. The black community has a strained relationship with healthcare.

Our country has a history that is stained by racism. Racism has impacted every aspect of our lives and healthcare is no different. 

The Tuskegee Study is one historical event in which Black men with syphilis were intentionally withheld treatment so that the U.S. Public Health Service could learn more about the disease and its progression. John Marion Sims, the “Father of American Gynecology,” perfected his surgical techniques by operating on enslaved black women without anesthesia. The government and medical community have given great reason for Black America to not trust that their best interest is at heart. 

Even today, black women are three times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth.  Serena Williams, with all of her fame, feared for her life because she developed a pulmonary embolism after giving birth to her daughter. She shared in Vogue that the nurse minimized her complaints and didn’t listen to her initially.  

Racism negatively impacts both patients and the healthcare workers that care for them.  Healthcare workers face barriers in advocating for their Black patients because they may be seen as exaggerating the needs. Patients are impacted because they are not always heard, lack access or simply don’t trust the advice of their providers. 

The CDC shared on its website Black Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes and strokes as opposed to our white counterparts. Social determinants of health such as healthcare access and utilization, education, income, housing and discrimination are associated with more hospitalizations and deaths in areas where Black people live, learn, work, play and worship. These things contribute to higher rates of comorbid conditions in the Black community.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a bright light on the inequities in the social determinants of health that put Black Americans at increased risk of being sick and dying. 

Data has shown that we are more likely to be admitted to the hospital with increased COVID-19 disease severity. 

The higher severity of the disease is linked to increased incidence of intubation and death. Our mistrust of the healthcare community complicates the situation. Some of us think it is a hoax, don’t believe the masks will help decrease the spread and refuse to consider getting the vaccination. 

This past summer many communities declared racism a public health crisis and have begun the work of improving the health of the black community. This work will take time and requires communities to be invested in the process and to be honest and vulnerable about the problems impacting their citizens. 

As citizens, we have a responsibility to make sure our elected officials are doing what is best for the community. We have to hold them accountable. The social determinants of health plaguing our country need to be improved and I am hopeful that we can do it.

As a healthcare worker, it is my responsibility to educate and lead by example. Being a registered nurse for 19 years and being a Black American has given me a viewpoint many others don’t have and I hope that my example will help ease the fears of others.

I received my first dose of Moderna’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine on December 31 and I am scheduled to get the second on January 28.  Truthfully, I was very nervous about getting it. I stood in the line waiting for my vaccine with a great amount of anxiety.

I wholeheartedly believe in the science behind the vaccine but that didn’t remove the fear. I gave myself a pep talk and reviewed the pros and cons over and over again in my mind.

I thought about the history of doctors and scientists experimenting on black people in the name of medicine. I also thought about Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a research fellow and scientific lead at the National Institute of Health. She is working with a team of scientists that are studying Moderna’s vaccine. That fact alone helped ease my mind and gave me a sense of pride.

The Moderna vaccine is one of the two vaccines that was authorized for Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA for people 18 years of age and older, Pfizer being the other. The vaccine is administered by intramuscular injection as a series of two doses one month apart.  The clinical trials found that the Moderna vaccine was over 90% effective in protecting against COVID-19. 

Knowing that getting the vaccine would help me do my part in taking care of my community was a motivator for me. The only side effect I’ve had is a sore arm.  I encourage everyone to get the vaccine so that we can win the war against COVID-19.

My Saturdays will remain the same. I will continue to do laundry, clean, shop and talk to my friends and family. Medical advice is something I imagine I will continue to share to help them navigate healthcare.

My hope is one day we will reach a point—as a local community and nation—where black people can trust that the advice they are receiving from their providers is in their best interest. That responsibility isn’t on the patient, it is on us, the healthcare providers. 

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