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Opinion: Don't play the race card on health care workers

Christopher R. DeAngelis

In a recent three-page letter from the Department of Health and Human Services addressed to all Michigan Clinicians, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s chief medical executive, Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun, asserts that we — namely health care workers and the system in which we work — are implicitly and/or explicitly racist. 

Her preliminary conclusions of causality reference statistics evolving from our current pandemic showing a disproportionately high rate of death among our state’s African American population — an incredibly sad revelation for our brothers and sisters in these communities and one which no doubt demands further reflection and scientific study.  

She then makes several assumptions for why these statistics are “likely” the case. She cites studies implicating low-wage jobs, decreased access to care, poverty, and higher-risk “critical infrastructure” jobs that may be more endemic to these communities. These certainly are valid topics for debate and consideration, but she does not stop there.

Khaldun goes on to assert “implicit and explicit bias by healthcare providers contributes to health care disparities.” This references a 2003 study from the Institute of Medicine Committee on Understanding and Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care, which supposedly backs her claim. She elaborates on the concept of “implicit bias” which we all seem to harbor but are unaware we have, and “explicit bias” which, plainly put, is overt racism. According to Khaldun, our health care workers and providers, collectively, are inherently corrupted by both. Who would have thought? She then impugns our country, stating that these disparities are “not caused by genetics or race,” but “an unfortunate part of American history.”   

There are likely many socioeconomic, epidemiologic and physiologic reasons why this virus appears to be disproportionally afflicting one population versus another, all of which will require intensive retrospective investigation — a reminder, as frequently repeated, to “follow the science.” However, to take these leaps of causality during the pandemic and cram them down the throats of thousands of health care workers is both reckless and insulting.  

"No government study from 2003 is going to convince me that our health care warriors on the front lines are inherently racially biased," writes DeAngelis.

No government study from 2003 is going to convince me that our health care warriors on the front lines are inherently racially biased. Visit the COVID-19 hospital floor of a local hospital. Throw on some PPE and enter the room of a suffering patient. Witness the clasped, caring hands of a nurse comforting her patient while putting her own family at risk. Witness the eye contact, the only thing unmasked or uncovered, between a doctor and his patient, who struggles to understand why they are ill. I’m not sure what health system Khaldun is referring to, but find me one ER, one clinic, one solitary health care provider in this country who has refused to care for a patient based on their race, gender or creed.

Let me be frank, Khaldun is flat-out wrong. Her assertions more closely echo a pre-packaged political narrative whose origins predate this pandemic by decades; just add a convenient tragedy to “plug in” and drive the agenda forward.  

Christopher R. DeAngelis

I believe we have the greatest health care system and workers on the planet. Please spare us the sanctimonious lecturing on how we should do our jobs more conscientiously.

Our political elites who continue to insist that we divide ourselves according to nomenclatures that are politically expedient for them, insult the relationships we cherish.

They like to frame this as “us” versus “them.”  As one of thousands of health care providers who put our lives on the line daily to help our patients, regardless of their backgrounds, we prefer to think of us all as “one.” 

Christopher R. DeAngelis, D.O., is a doctor of internal medicine living and practicing in Woodhaven.