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Survey shows racial discrimination in Ohio healthcare system

Four community organizations across the state teamed up to survey more than 800 people last year.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A new survey shows people of color in Ohio experience more discrimination in the healthcare system than their white peers.

“There’s more than sufficient evidence to classify our healthcare systems, including our hospitals, as racist and demonstrate that racism has been intentionally institutionalized and continues to manifest in disparate and negative outcomes for marginalized populations in this country,” said Tracy Maxwell Heard, executive director of Multiethnic Advocates for Cultural Competence, Inc., or MACC.

MACC, along with Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio, Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition and Ohio Unity Coalition, teamed up to conduct the survey.

Data was collected between May and September of last year, and 876 people responded. They were asked various questions about discrimination of any sort in the healthcare system. 

Links to the survey were sent to a predominately Ohio audience, but the results were not limited to those within the state. Some surveys were conducted in person.


“Over and over again, most of those in the community suggested and even spoke to experiences that proved reasons for distrust and a need to repair the breach between the hospital systems and the community and to establish a better pathway of outreach, more than just symbolic or ceremonial, but substantive,” said Zachery Williams, public policy director for Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition.

In the survey, Black people were more likely to report discrimination that included being treated with less respect, getting poorer service and having symptoms dismissed. Black women, specifically, were most likely to report discrimination.

The most common reaction to these experiences among those surveyed was to not return for future appointments or accept the situation as a fact of life.

“This is saying, what we’ve done for 30, 40, 50, 200 years has not worked,” said Dawn Pullin, behavioral health and addictions director for Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition. “It’s a crisis. And now it’s time to put some momentum behind what we know to be true, and now we have proof of that.”

Columbus and Franklin County already have declared racism a public health crisis, but legislation to bring that to a statewide level stalled in the statehouse.

Meanwhile, Heard says all hospital systems in Central Ohio have already been a part of the outreach and already are in various stages of addressing this issue. She added that none had been unaware of the issue or unwilling to address it.

“Until we begin to mandate that as an expectation for engagement, then we’re really going to be limited in the traction that we get because it’s not something you can do with one company or one organization,” she said. “We’re looking at systemic and institutional racism that we’re trying to address over centuries, so it’s going to take some time to unravel this, to explore this. But we’re in an ideal situation right now just because of what’s happening on the national landscape. People are open and willing to have these conversations and want to learn and want to explore this subject, so we’re really trying to take advantage of that availability right now and really get some structure built around what the expectation is of us all in this society to address this for the betterment and for equity for all.”

The goal now is to distribute the survey results far and wide and to demand action.

“We’re calling hospitals, we’re calling the government, we’re calling the city, the state, the local health departments to action because this is what it’s going to take,” Pullin said. “Someone has to take action. And it can’t just be oh, well, we did this little thing, and it’s great. We need millions of dollars behind this, we need hospitals to be held accountable. We need someone to put it in place where they can be held accountable for the things that have been brought to our attention.”

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