By Marc J. Lane
Organized medicine is coming to terms with the reality that racism is a threat to public health and doing something about it. After all, it’s the consequences of racism -- not race itself -- that are responsible for differences in health status and outcomes too often attributed to race.
The American Medical Association, the largest association of physicians and medical students in the United States, launched its Center for Health Equity in April of 2019. The Center, led by Dr. Aletha Maybank, the AMA’s inaugural chief equity officer and the founding director of New York City’s Center for Healthy Equity, is charged with promoting “optimal health for all” across the Association and beyond.
Now the AMA’s House of Delegates has overwhelmingly adopted policies that support the elimination of race as a proxy for ancestry, genetics and biology in medical education, research and clinical practices. The policies aim to advance data-driven, anti-racist concepts challenging the current clinical application of race and its effects on vulnerable patient populations.
The Delegates understand that racism and systematic oppression lead to racial health disparities. Race is merely a social construct and not a biological determinant. So, clinicians and researchers are being urged to focus on genetics and biology, the experience of racism, and the social determinants of health – but not race itself – when describing risk factors for disease.
While the AMA seeks to make good on its pledge to confront systemic racism, the American Heart Association remains committed “to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives.” Its Social Impact Fund is investing in local organizations in Chicago and elsewhere that are breaking down the social and economic barriers to health equity. The AHA’s Social Impact Fund, with the support of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, is helping fund innovative and disruptive approaches to countering the disproportionate effects of COVID – 19 in Chicago’s most under-resourced communities and empowering them to change their own trajectories of health and well-being.
The city’s latest Social Impact Fund recipients are ChiFresh Kitchen, a for-profit worker cooperative food service contractor, owned mostly by formerly incarcerated Black women, that sells nutrient-dense meals to institutions serving food-insecure residents of Chicago’s West and South sides; CareMessage, a tech nonprofit that uses text messages to help safety-net organizations meet the needs of patients who lack an easy way to track health service appointments and manage medical records; Jane Addams Resource Corporation, a nonprofit that provides free technical manufacturing training and wrap-around services to connect low-income adults and returning citizens to careers with family-sustaining wages; and mRelief, a nonprofit social enterprise that’s transforming access to SNAP (the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits for families in need through a user-friendly, muti-lingual digital platform.
The AMA, the AHA and the Social Impact Fund’s recipients are inventing new paths toward racial equity. In this season of hope, may all of us, each in our own way, be inspired by their example and follow their lead.
Marc J. Lane is an attorney and financial adviser, and the author of "The Mission-Driven Venture: Business Solutions to the World’s Most Vexing Social Problems."