We the Patients

Kistein Monkhouse: Health Justice and Covid-19

Health Justice and Covid-19 written by We The Patients storytelling advisor Kistein Monkhouse.

Once upon a time, I worried about my brother being racially profiled and harassed by police in his neighborhood. These days, my questioning of his safety has a different meaning. Recently his response has been, “I don’t have coronavirus. Everybody is safe”.

My father’s response on the other hand has been, “everything is good.” Last week that was followed by “have you heard ____ passed away? And the funeral home cremated their body at 9:00am, unbeknownst to the family, who showed up at 3:00pm for the funeral.”

By the end of the week, I’d learned of the death of four African Americans from middle-class Brooklyn. Meanwhile on Twitter, stats from ProPublica and the New York Times began circulating about African Americans being infected and dying at higher rates of Covid-19.

As someone with expertise in public policy and public health, my questions are:

  • What are the socioeconomic factors behind Covid-19 data?
  • Are there demographic health data being collected nationally?
  • Where is data being collected? Where is it not being collected, and why not?

Demographic data can bring greater awareness to underserved populations. And, ideally, that data will drive federal funding allocation for public health in traditionally “underserved” communities– that is, poor communities and communities of color.

Regardless, we have to work towards pulling down the systemic barriers that enable health disparities. I’ve advocated for health equity, patient experience and humanizing healthcare for the past two years, standing firm in my belief that all people should have access to quality healthcare regardless of their class, race, age, location, education, sexual orientation, or anything else.

With that, I’m calling on health-tech ecosystems, digital health investors, and public health officials to help support innovations that are built by people who have lived experience or working experience with health inequity. Now that we’re in a public health crisis, we need technology that will help bridge disparity gaps and improve population health. Social workers, care coordinators, women of color, people of color, and those who weren’t raised in affluent communities have advocated on behalf of their communities health and wellbeing for decades, even before this pandemic.

Yet discussions around public health and social determinants of health are dominated by the voices of a selected few “thought leaders” with no lived experience or work experience in these communities. The lack of representation in digital health and public health policy conversations is just one of many reasons why underserved communities’ needs are continuously left unmet. Added to that, the lack of funding in social impact and public health tech founded by people of color and women is astonishing.

In closing, I ask that you invite people of color to have discussions around public policy, patient experience and health equity to learn about the ways in which their respective communities can improve their health outcomes. Visit @PatientOrator on Twitter or Instagram, and look at our guest for pointers on what diversity is and how to include all people on your forums. And, lastly if you are invited to be on a healthcare panel discussion, ask if there are people of color, and volunteer to help make an introduction if needed.