My medical school roommate would travel all the way across Durham, to North Carolina Central University, to get his haircut. “There are no barbers on this side of town who know how to cut black people’s hair,” he told me. Now historically the city was fairly segregated, but that was no longer the case; there were plenty of African-Americans at and around the Duke campus. In a truly free and unbiased market, businesses should have arisen to meet that demand. But it didn’t happen.
There are far more consequential examples of such systemic racism in the healthcare system. We now have large numbers of adults living with diseases that used to kill people in childhood: cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, and of course sickle cell disease. In the past, few adult physicians knew how to take care of those conditions, but now, a growing number of specialists serve those patients. Except for those with sickle cell disease. In the Twin Cities, there are almost no adult hematologists for the burgeoning number of adults living with sickle cell disease, which disproportionately affects people of color.
Fortunately, as reported on MPR recently, there are those advocating for this unmet need, especially Children’s own Rae Blaylark, sickle cell patient health advocate in our Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders and President and Founder of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Minnesota. She knows from personal family experience the struggle to find care for adults with sickle cell disease. Her advocacy highlights the significant disparities in care for those adults. Not only do they lack access to specialists in this community, but they face barriers and biases in the health care system as a whole.
While I lament this example of health inequity, I am so proud to have someone like Rae here at Children’s, working to address systemic racism and improve health and justice in the community. Thank you, Rae!