Pandemic highlights ‘glaring health disparities’ among communities of color, says medical director

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on communities across the country, particularly Black communities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black people with COVID-19 are nearly four times more likely to be hospitalized than white patients, and almost three times more likely to succumb to the virus.

Furthermore, Black female doctors represent only 2% of physicians, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Dr. Monique Gary, a leading Black female surgeon in the region, said better representation in medicine can save more lives, especially during the pandemic.

“We can see now more than ever the glaring health disparities that existed well before the coronavirus, but now, there’s a light shone on it,” she said. “It matters when we have a seat at the table because we can broaden the table and create opportunity.”

Another recent AAMC study predicts a shortfall of up to 139,000 physicians in the U.S. by 2033 due to older patients and retiring doctors — a statistic that is magnified by COVID-19 and communities of color.

Gary, who is also the medical director of the cancer program at Grand View Health, has been fighting on the front lines since the start of the pandemic. In order to make real change in the racial disparities within the medical system, she said the first step is recognition.

“Systemic racism is real,” she said, adding Black and Brown female doctors should be in more positions of leadership in medical institutions.

“When we are not in the room, we are not on the agenda.”

The CDC also found that Black women are three times more likely to die while pregnant or within a year of pregnancy compared to white women. That number has only increased since the start of the pandemic.

“Black female physicians are needed because Black female patients need to be understood and spoken for,” Gary continued. “The maternal-fetal death rates continue to increase, and so it’s not just the coronavirus — it’s everything before the coronavirus is now compounded.”