WALLINGFORD — Keren Prescott recalled going to the emergency room with severe symptoms and being told that it was a migraine. After years of the symptoms continuing and many doctor visits, a doctor finally confirmed she had multiple sclerosis.
“This is typically how my life, and the lives of many Black and brown people look with chronic disease,” said Prescott, founder of Power Up Manchester. “This is how our life looks when we are dealing with chronic pain.”
Prescott, who is Black, feels that if a white person with the same socioeconomic status and education reported the same issues, that person would have been treated immediately with better care.
Through Power Up Manchester, Prescott works against systemic racism and racial inequality in Manchester and around the state in a variety of systems like health care, education and criminal justice.
She spoke Tuesday night as part of a virtual event hosted by the Wallingford Public Library titled “Race: An Expert Panel on Health and Healthcare Disparities.”
“There is a clear intersection of race and health,” said panelist Kevin Collins, director of training and outreach for Health Equity Solutions. “Race, while it might be socially constructed, completely made up, is a real system that we live in. So that makes race a social determinant of health.”
Collins and Taylor Tucker, program manager of training and outreach for the same organization, defined what it means to have racial disparities and explained how things like employment, income and education affect health care.
The nonprofit Health Equity Solutions works toward health equity for everyone in Connecticut regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.
“Structural racism is a system of power that structures opportunity,” Collins said. “That is a construct and structure of biases that favors certain folks and ostracizes and marginalizes. Black and brown folks are those that are marginalized based on nothing but the color of our skin.
“It doesn’t matter if there is an intent,” Collins added. “These things may have never been created to intentionally create barriers, intentionally discriminate. They do just by the very nature of their creation of the system.”
A current and relevant topic of discussion was the response to COVID-19 in different environments. Collins and Tucker reported that infection, hospitalization and death rates are higher in Black, Latino/a/x, Asian and Indigenous communities.
Elisabeth Michel, a health equity specialist for Hartford HealthCare, gave a health system perspective on the health care disparities.
Michel reported that Hartford Healthcare is bringing COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites to historically underserved communities and creating unique opportunities for testing and vaccination.
“One of the most important pieces is ensuring that the voices that have been marginalized, oppressed and unheard, are uplifted, respected and heard,” Michel said. “And not just heard to say ‘oh we heard it’ but really to sit down and say OK ‘how do we choose to do what is just, how do we work together towards liberation.’”
Citing the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and CT Health Foundation, Michel included health inequity examples in her presentation: Black babies are more than four times as likely to die before their first birthday compared to children born to white women. She also included that the life expectancy in the north end of Hartford is about 15 years shorter than for residents of West Hartford.
“We can see the differences in health outcomes,” she said. “As a health system the question is what are those outcomes? What sources of data can we engage with to learn what that looks like?”
“We have to take a look, not just at our health care system,” Prescott said. “We need to take a look at all systems in systematic racism. They all have a part to play in how our Black and brown bodies experience the trauma of racism.”
Watch the full discussion on Wallingford Public Library’s Youtube page, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AXgRhajtjc.