How one hospital organization is tackling racial bias in medicine

Mount Sinai is on a mission to provide quality health care for all.

This report is part of “Turning Point,” a groundbreaking series by ABC News examining the racial reckoning sweeping the United States and exploring whether it can lead to lasting reconciliation.

For years, studies have shown that people of color don’t get the same level of health care as white patients.

Some of these studies include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2018 study which found that Black babies have a higher chance of dying in their first year of life compared to white babies.

Similarly, a study from the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine found that Black and brown Americans waited longer for care in the emergency room than white Americans.

And in 2016, another study from the National Academy of Sciences found that Black Americans were undertreated for pain compared to white Americans.

It’s an issue that Kamilah Mitchell knows all too well. In 2017, Mitchell said she was in the emergency room for eight hours and was even given a breathalyzer test before getting treatment for uterine cancer.

“How do you trust a system that is ready to send you home?” Mitchell told “Good Morning America.” “Because for whatever reason, they don’t want to hear you.”

Mitchell is now a patient of Dr. Joy Cooper, an Oakland, California, doctor and co-founder of Culture Care, a group that connects Black women with trusted physicians.

“I always tell people that the health care system was not designed [with] Black women in mind,” Dr. Joy Cooper told “Good Morning America.” “J. Marion Sims, who’s considered the father of gynecology, actually performed surgeries on slaves with their master’s consent without anesthesia.”

But an initiative at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital is working to end racial bias in medicine.

Dubbed the Racial Bias Initiative, which is part of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, their mission is to provide “health care and education that is free of racism and bias.”

According to Dean David Muller of the Icahn School of Medicine, the initiative, which was launched in 2015, aims to focus on changing “how we function, how we recruit scientists and doctors, how we promote them and how we make decisions about resource allocation.”

“It’s the people and it’s the actual structure of the medical school,” added Dr. Leona Hess, director of strategy and equity education programs at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “What are the ways in which we set up conditions that either knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate racism?”

At the Icahn School of Medicine, they also host weekly discussions about racial bias in medicine called “Chats for Change,” where the Mount Sinai community can learn about a wide range of topics from racial trauma to racial injustice in medicine. Attendees can also take part in healing circles.

“There’s a lot of work going on

Experts: Tackling Poverty and Racism as Public Health Crises Requires Rapid Action | National News

Late last month, the Healthcare Anchor Network, a coalition of more than three dozen health systems in 45 states and Washington, D.C., released a public statement declaring: “It is undeniable: Racism is a public health crisis.” In the wake of the killing of George Floyd in May, many states, cities and counties across the United States issued similar declarations, according to the American Public Health Association.

While it is becoming clear that ZIP code may matter more to longevity than genetic code, some public health experts have been sounding the alarm for decades. Indeed, poverty and racism have an enormous – and devastating – impact on health, according to a panel of experts brought together for a webinar hosted by U.S. News & World Report as part of the Community Health Leadership Forum, a new virtual event series.

In Chicago, as just one example, life expectancy between some neighborhoods can vary by 30 years, because of factors like access to health care, education, nutritional food sources, income and what many call systematic disinvestment dating back decades.

COVID-19 has made such inequities impossible to ignore. Expected at first to be “the great equalizer,” hitting all demographics equally hard, the novel coronavirus has caused impoverished, mostly Black and underrepresented minority populations to suffer far more death and ill health effects than their white peers.

COVID-19 “attacks vulnerabilities in a truly diabolical way,” said featured speaker Wes Moore, chief executive officer of Robin Hood, one of the nation’s leading anti-poverty organizations.

“We are going to need a concerted and a collective effort to deal with a calcified and hard problem” of poverty and racism and how they influence health, Moore said. Half of the population of New York City lived in poverty for at least one year over the past four years, Moore said, and the probability of dipping back into poverty within a year was 37% – even before COVID-19 hit. “The data continues to reinforce the fact that … [poverty] is not a choice of the person who is feeling the weight of poverty, it’s society’s choice,” Moore said.

Those in poverty are far more likely to have preexisting conditions like asthma, diabetes and obesity, Moore noted, putting them at greater risk of death from COVID-19 and other illnesses.

In his new book, “Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City,” Moore examined the 2015 death of Freddie Gray and its aftermath in the city of Baltimore. Moore wrote that Gray, born premature and underweight to a heroin-addicted mother, had grown up in poverty and was exposed to lead at a far greater rate than the limit recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Freddie Gray never had a shot,” Moore said, because he was failed by every social system, including the health system, and not just law enforcement.

Yet Moore remains optimistic. “We are not yet what we can be; our responsibility to get there is our responsibility to get there,” he said. Citing a