A Georgia Physician Addressing “the Negro Health Problem,” warm that Germs No Color Line, 1914
Good health is a vital component of life. In the United States of America, hospitals were vital institutions in the African American community. By the year 1919, there existed about 118 black hospitals in the United States. This paper analyzes the Racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare as illustrated by the authors Warner and Tighe in their book Major Problems in the History of America Medicine and Public Health. Going by evidences from this book, racial discrimination and segregation in health care does indeed exist.
During the 90s, there was a lack of awareness on the existence of black hospitals amongst the general public. Three main issues highlight the lack of awareness among the general population. One, it was difficult for many people to reconcile their views on medicine as a value-free profession with the facts that issues of race and racism have played a significant role in the development of American medicine. In the United States, racism has always been a contentious issue. The whites consider themselves as the superior being and look down upon the black person. This has led to racial tension even in the health care sector. Secondly, the fact that so few historically black hospitals remain has made them virtually invincible and lastly, scholars in the history of American medicine and African-American history have, until recently, paid scant attention to issues of race and American medicine.
The establishment of slave hospitals began during the early nineteenth century. These hospitals were set up in large plantations where Negros toiled and labored under the stewardship of the white man. Physicians were only called to treat serious health cases. Black suspicion of white medicine began in slavery, but was reinforced by the exclusion of the black people from the medical establishment and the use of blacks in medical training and experiments in the nineteenth and twentieth century. This meant that the black community had to come up with another way of managing their health. This led to them incorporating the use of traditional herbs as a source of their medicine. Also, due to the racial segregation that undermined the Negros, the death of black persons in the United States was significantly higher than that of white people since the whites received better health care than the blacks. This proves that there was racial preference in health care during the early 1900s. The code of ethics of physicians and of medicine is to provide equal and optimal care to all patients, and most physicians strive to conform to this ethic. Current efforts to improve the “cultural competency” of physicians are unlikely to reduce racial disparities in health.
During the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth century, various segments of the black community embarked on creating hospitals for themselves. These Hospitals offered limited therapeutics and functioned, in part, to maintain the social order by isolating the socially marginal and by serving as loci for moral as well as medical care. Poverty and dependence were the main criteria for admission. The creation of slave hospitals represented one response. Those rudimentary facilities usually contained only a few beds and were located in buildings separate from the main slave quarters. They provided an efficient means to care for sick slaves because all medicines could be housed in one location. The facilities also isolated slaves with contagious diseases.
The history of the black hospital movement shows how black physicians made a place for themselves within the profession of medicine between 1920 and 1945, a time when few of them had options beyond the separate, but never equal, black medical world. The health of black people and that of white people were inextricably linked, so, if not for humanitarian reasons then at least for self-protection, whites needed to pay attention to the medical problems of African Americans. The white community also established black hospitals in order to escape the embarrassment of entirely neglecting the black sick, but without having to take care of them in white institutions. Regardless of motive, the goal behind the establishment of these hospitals was to maintain and create a segregated hospital system. Also, the contributions of women were important in establishing and maintaining black hospitals. Women led fund-raising campaigns for the institutions, made significant donations, worked as physicians and nurses, ran hospital nurse-training programs and, in some cases, even established hospitals. The black community also organized hospitals in order to train black women to be nurses.
The creation of health facilities demonstrates the strength and resilience of the black community. African Americans were not passive victims in the face of oppression; rather, they developed mechanisms to take care of themselves. Confronted with the racism in American medicine, black people responded by establishing their own institutions. Black physicians also began hospitals to help themselves economically. They needed the facilities in order to survive professionally and to establish their legitimacy in the community. In conclusion, the physician shows racial discrimination exists even in medical care.
Magner, L. N. (2002). Major Problems in the History of American Medicine and Public Health (review). Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 57(2), 238-239. Oxford University Press. Retrieved March 19, 2018, from Project MUSE database.
Magner, L. N. (2002). Major Problems in the History of American Medicine and Public Health.
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