“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Happy Birthday Dr. King. We thank you for all you have done to fight injustices in the world. When we celebrate your birthday, we often search for quotes of love, hope and inspiration from you. We often seek your words to bring people together in order to fight for justice and end racism. Today, I am not searching for those loving or hopeful words. Today, I want to reflect on the words, the system and the reality that began to kill you before your assassination. This is the silent killer of racism.
Dr. King, you were assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. You were murdered because of the violence caused by racism. Your autopsy established that you died from gunshot wounds caused by an assassin’s bullets. Your autopsy also revealed something we don’t often talk about. You were 39 years old when you were murdered. However, the autopsy of your heart revealed that you had the heart of a 60 year old. Stress had taken a major toll on your heart. Stress always has a cause and in your case it was clear that that racism was the cause of your stress.
Here are a few of the things you endured, Dr. King, before your death:
House bombing by white supremacists;
Momma King slain by a bullet;
You were spit on by people because you were Black;
You were cursed at by people because you were Black; and
You were jailed by people because you were Black;
You see, Dr. King, you died from a bullet, but you were slowly being killed by racism. Your heart autopsy demonstrated this. The ironic thing about the silent killer of racism is that when you went to the hospital to get treatment, the healthcare system added to the racism and inhumanity and made it worse for you. The silent killer got a boost from healthcare.
Dr. King, you received inadequate and racist healthcare because you were Black. In 2021, this systemic racism has not changed and we have to do better.
MLK 2021 Vision
Injustice, inhumanity and racism in healthcare continues to cause racial inequalities. In order to realize the vision of social justice, I am sure you want us to address racism in medicine. In 2021, rather than offer a MLK quote on hope, we in healthcare will commit to your vision and be measured by our actions when MLK Day 2022 rolls around. This is what we are willing to do in the next year:
1. Treat Black and Brown patients and families with respect and dignity and when that does not happen we will hold people accountable for their disrespectful actions and take affirmative steps to dismantle and replace the system that consistently produces a lack of respect and dignity for these families;
2. Retain and treat fairly Black and Brown employees and also provide these employees with equitable opportunities to achieve success in the workplace.
3. Recruit and retain more Black and Brown medical assistants, nurses, doctors and medical staff to treat patients and families.
4. Partner with Black and Brown organizations to co-develop and co-design health equity solutions for Black and Brown patients and families. We will also invest in Black and Brown businesses within the community in order to create positive economic impact in the community and for the people we serve.
5. Measure health disparities and more importantly implement solutions to change the disparities and provide equitable care. Measurement without corrective action is inhumane and unjust and we will not engage in that behavior.
Dr. King, I know you are looking for something different in 2021. I know you want to see our actions match our words. In healthcare, housing, employment, economic development and community partnerships we will make a measurable difference by the time we say Happy Birthday in 2022. We are committed to being the change we seek in this country. We are also committed to holding each other accountable. This is our birthday present for you Dr. King. Happy Birthday Dr. King.