RACISM IN HEALTHCARE
Addressing racism in healthcare is often seen as a complex problem without a simple solution. Health-related scenarios involve many factors that make each patient unique with countless variables at play. Therefore, it’s not appropriate to make sweeping judgments about the healthcare system based solely on individual experiences unless there is clear evidence of egregious malpractice. That being said, it remains perplexing that Black Americans have a life expectancy that is four years shorter than that of white Americans. One of the most evident explanations for this discrepancy is linked to a common theme VT PoC advocates against: the presence of systemic racism within healthcare, which reflects the broader systemic racism prevalent in society and the undervaluing of BIPOC lives.
Let’s keep it local. As with anything in the United States, it’s crucial to consider historical context due to the consistent failures in addressing racist policies and practices. Vermont, in particular, has a very specific racist relationship with healthcare disparities in the form of the eugenics movement.
Eugenics is a field of study that aims to weed out less desirable genetic traits through experimentation and controlled reproduction. It was discredited after World War II due to its association with Nazism, but had a significant impact on our state from 1925 to 1936.
Guy W. Bailey, president of UVM from 1919 to 1940, approved the Eugenics Survey of Vermont, under the recommendation and leadership of Zoology professor Henry Perkins. The survey subjected Vermonters to harsh evaluations of their mental well-being by their practitioners. It recommended resettlement, and prior to a law banning it in 1931, sterilization of those deemed feebleminded. Even after 1931, surveyors could reject marriages for those they deemed unfit to reproduce. Where this ties into our newsletter topic is that it was racist practitioners who determined who was worthy of reproduction. Native Vermonters, members of the Abenaki tribe, suffered from this survey. Abenaki individuals were forcefully sterilized and institutionalized, and many children were separated from parents who were judged as unfit to care for them by surveyors.
Systematic racism in one of its ugliest forms if I’ve ever read it.
Fast forward to healthcare in Vermont today, the lasting effects of past atrocities are apparent. Healthcare spending per person is at an all time high, as are distrust in doctors across political divides due to misinformation, propaganda, and past failures like the eugenics survey. Immigrant and refugee populations have risen significantly, and the need for more medical practitioners has never been greater.
Many solutions to address racial disparities in treatment are only loosely addressed. A 2022 study by the state found that adult Vermonters of color are almost twice as likely to delay treatment due to the associated costs. The same survey found that in Vermont, 69% of white patients felt their cultural identity was respected, whereas less than half of Black patients did. Asian patients were even lower at 43%, and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders reported an astonishing figure of only 36% feeling that their cultural identity was respected by medical professionals. Respect for cultural identity is critical to one’s treatment because it informs their trust in that treatment, their comfort and stress (which often aids their physical wellbeing), and their willingness to continue to receive care.
You’d think that an easy solution would be to simply hire more physicians of color – but the federal government doesn’t make that so easy. For starters, the financial barriers to even apply to medical school is unfair. The Medical School Admission Test (MCAT) is one that applicants often spend months studying for, and costs hundreds of dollars to take. That money is barely a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of actually applying to medical school, which can cost anywhere from $100-$500 per school. Moreover, only 43% of applicants applying last year were accepted. This figure could potentially be higher and allow more doctors to be trained. However, the real problem arises when they finish their four years of schooling. From there, students must apply to residency programs. These residency programs are capped by the federal government based on an arbitrary budget set in the late 90s and restricts the number of doctors who can be trained at a given time, not taking into account the number of students graduating from medical school. For BIPOC applicants, who often face financial disparities compared to white Americans, the financial burden can outweigh the risk of not getting into medical school or a residency slot.
Despite lack of action on the national level, there are some strides being made in the right direction within Vermont. Two that come to mind are initiatives by UVM and VT PoC ourselves.
The College of Nursing and Health Sciences at UVM have two peer mentoring programs in which all first year students are automatically enrolled in. One, called LinkUp, is in its relative infancy, aims to connect BIPOC students to BIPOC upperclassmen to make them more comfortable, seen, and guide them through academia. This is important because it not only tries to increase retention of BIPOC students as students, but also as medical practitioners.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, VT PoC launched the Vermont Health Equity Initiative, which set up vaccine clinics focused on BIPOC and immigrant communities. By creating a space for culturally sensitive care, many community members of color were vaccinated when they may have otherwise not been. The fact that Vermont was the fastest state to reach an 80% vaccination rate is a testament to the importance of cultural understanding in healthcare.
About the Author
Dylan Rhymaun moved to Chittenden County in 2017 and now resides in Winooski. He works as an Academic Advisor at UVM’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences. Dylan is an avid writer and artist, and looks forward to working closer with the Vermont community. View more of their work at dylanrhymaun.com.
This month, we’re highlighting Miller Celestin and Anisha Rimal! Miller and Anisha have been developing a mentorship program called Finding Affinity and Mentorship (FAM) for BIPOC nursing and medical students at the University of Vermont (UVM).
In this spotlight, Miller and Anisha share about themselves, the challenges of having moved to Vermont as BIPOC professionals, and the amazing work they’re doing at the UVM Medical Center and UVM Larner School of Medicine.
October 5 – Financial Literacy Series with Baystate Financial
Our next financial literacy series webinar is on life insurance!
October 18 – VT PoC x Money Matters Homebuyers Workshop
VT PoC is excited to partner with Shanda Williams of SDCMCG to offer VT PoC x Money Matters workshops! The next session on homebuying is on October 18 from 10:00 AM to 12:30 PM and 5:30 PM to 8:00 PM.
This series is FREE to VT PoC members and is a continuation of VT PoC’s Financial Literacy Series.
October 26 – BIPOC Cycling with Align Cycling
Get ready to pedal to the rhythm! Join us for a FREE BIPOC cycling class with Align Cycling in Williston, hosted by Sarah DeGray and featuring a live DJ set by King Crouch. This is a fun, no-experience needed class!
Don’t forget to arrive 30 minutes early and feel free to stick around after the class to mingle! We can’t wait to ride with you!
October 3 – Thrive QTPOC Programming Presents: KiKi: Live Your Truth (5:00 – 7:00 PM)
THRIVE: QTPOC Programming (Pride Center of Vermont) in collaboration with Merril’s Roxy Cinema. In preparation for “The Thrive Ball: Zodiac Haus” happening at Higher Ground Wed Oct 4th 2023, we want to give the Vermont community a chance to get a look into the modern day Vouge/Kiki/Ballroom scene by watching a screening of KiKi: Live Your Truth. First 50 people RSVP below to have free access to the screening of the film. QT/POC (Queer & Trans POC and other POC folx) have priority for this event.
October 4 – Thrive QTPOC Programming Presents: The Thrive Ball (7:00 PM)
It was written in the stars, it’s time to bring vogue and ballroom to the green mountain state, with The THRIVE Ball: Zodiac Haus! THIS IS A QT/POC FOCUSED EVENT AND SPACE. QT/POC HAVE PRIORITY IN ATTENDING THE EVENT. ALL ARE WELCOME TO ATTEND AND PARTICIPATE! Free entry for BIPOC attendees, DM thrivepcvt on Instagram for details!
October 4 – Renewable Energy BIPOC Focus Group (TBD)
The Rutland Regional Planning Commission (RRPC) is hosting a BIPOC focus group in partnership with the Public Service Department (PSD). This listening session is about the Renewable Energy Standards which govern renewable energy policy in Vermont. The ultimate goal of this session is to gather opinions from Vermonters in order for the PSD to make recommendations to the legislature about the rules governing electricity programs. This event will be a mix of presenting information on the current system and asking about participant’s preferences. Participants will be offered a $50 stipend to attend a 2hr in-person session which will be in the evening on October 4th. We will provide dinner and hope to make this an enjoyable night. In order to provide a safe and inclusive meeting space, we are asking people to register for this event to be given the meeting location details. Click here to register.
October 4, 11, 18, 25 – English for Beginners and Intermediate Students (6:30 – 8:00 PM)
English-language learners of all abilities can practice written and spoken English with trained instructors. FREE. Please register for classes by emailing Barbara Shatara at email@example.com.
October 5, 12, 19, 26 – BIPOC Affinity Space Yoga at Sangha Studio Pine (6:30 – 7:30 PM)
Vanessa Santos Eugenio, intercultural communications and social justice educator, yoga instructor and meditation teacher leads this healing weekly drop-in class for the the BIPOC community. Each class is committed to our collective healing, liberation and community building. Readings for each class will feature the literature and poetry of BIPOC authors.
October 7 – The Root 10 Year Anniversary Celebration (11:00 AM – 6:00 PM)
The Root team invites you to celebrate 10 years of Centering Blackness! This is a multicultural space and event, we want to celebrate with our ENTIRE community! Bring old friends of all ages and introduce new. We’ll start with sign making at The Root, followed by Racial Justice Parade around downtown Brattleboro and transition into a Party at SUSU CommUNITY Farm. So mark your calendars now and get ready for a grand celebration where we elevate BIPOC leadership and joy, connect over delicious food, dance to music that moves body and soul, all within the best company ever; Our Root Community!
October 12 – Free Screening of “Dolores” at the Savoy in Montpelier (6:00 PM – 7:50 PM)
Join The Vermont Releaf Collective for a film screening! This event is free and open to the public. Dolores Huerta is among the most important, yet least known, activists in American history. An equal partner in co-founding the first farm workers unions with Cesar Chavez, her enormous contributions have gone largely unrecognized. Dolores tirelessly led the fight for racial and labor justice alongside Chavez, becoming one of the most defiant feminists of the twentieth century—and she continues the fight to this day, at 87. With intimate and unprecedented access to this intensely private mother to eleven, the film reveals the raw, personal stakes involved in committing one’s life to social change. Directed by Peter Bratt.
October 13 – Safe Spaces – BIPoC Game Night (7:00 PM – 10:00 PM)
Sometimes we just need a night out without going out. So throw on something comfy and let’s have a game night! Donations welcome and help cover the cost of childcare, food and drinks. Feel free to BYO drink, snack or something to share.
October 14, 28 – Fletcher Free Library Presents: The Poetry Experience ft. Rajnii Eddins (1:00 PM – 3:00 PM)
Check out this local writing/sharing circle (held every 2nd and 4th Saturday). The Poetry Experience is hosted by Rajnii Eddins! Please spread the word and feel free to invite poets, writers, teachers, emcees, creative people and arts enthusiasts of all ages!!!!
October 17 – POC Pole Space with Savvie at RevolVT (7:00 PM)
Pole jam space for and centering BIPOC, lead by Savvie/Ruthless. This time is include a full pole class (75 min), consisting of a flow created to be inviting to both beginner and experienced alike, so we can all dance together. Afterwards, (45 min) will be open to socialize, pole dance freely and be together in a space for us. Regular class pass to pay for space use/teaching class time is helpful, however, we desire to make this space accessible. Currently you do not need an active pass to book the class. This class is free/by donation if you desire.
October 20 – VT Racial Justice Alliance Monthly Game Night (6:00 PM – 8:00 PM)
Join us for our monthly game night at the Richard Kemp Center where there will be Spades, Charades, Dominos, and more! Food will also be provided.
FEMA extends Vermont flooding disaster declaration to cover 4 additional days in July
FEMA has extended the period during which individuals can apply for federal aid from the flood by four days, aiming to ensure that those who experienced damage later in July can still receive disaster assistance. The deadline to apply for FEMA assistance is October 12. Read more here.
After facing racism at a Middlebury middle school, a departing dean calls for stronger protections
Esther Charlestin, who served as the first dean of climate and culture at Middlebury Union Middle School for less than a year, has resigned from her position. She shared her experiences and concerns about the school district’s support for her as she experienced racism in an op-ed. Read more here.
The late Louvenia Dorsey Bright, Vermont’s first woman of color in the Statehouse, will be honored with lifetime achievement award, official portrait
Louvenia Dorsey Bright became Vermont’s first woman of color to be elected to the state Legislature, serving three terms in the Vermont House, representing South Burlington, before passing away at the age of 81 on July 2. Her lifetime achievement award was presented to her family on September 23 by former state Rep. Kiah Morris, the second Black woman to serve in the Legislature, and Rep. Saudia LaMont, who became the third. Read more here.
As student loan repayments resume, financial experts offer resources for Vermonters
After being paused for three years, student loan repayments are resuming. Vermont Edition shares resources for Vermonters paying off their student loans, as well as tips from a financial therapist. Listen to the full conversation and read more here.