Doctors Join the Protests in Support of Black Lives, Calling Racism a Health Crisis

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Photo: Doug McSchooler/For IndyStar

Indianapolis doctors and medical professionals have joined the protest movement in support of black lives. About 1,000 protesters, proudly wearing their white coats, gathered outside of Eskenazi Hospital on Wednesday evening.

They didn't come to represent specific hospitals or their employers but instead focused their demands on what they say are their industry's shortcomings.

"We're here today because systemic racism is a public health crisis, and we want to take a stand against that," organizer Crystal Azu said.

Azu, a physician in Indianapolis, said planning for the protest started with conversations in her network of friends about police brutality and George Floyd's death. She said they were tired of seeing the same footage of black men and women dying at the hands of police over and over.

"As physicians, we know firsthand how health care disparities affect our patients, especially during this season of COVID, and we just wanted to take a stand against racism and also in solidarity with peaceful protesters across the U.S."

Azu said inequities occur when black communities don't have access to healthful food, encounter biases when they seek health care, and don't have safe sidewalks or streets to walk on in their neighborhoods.

"Based on racism and structural inequity ... people have had disparate outcomes. There's differences as far as the prevalence of hypertension, diabetes," she said.

Speakers before the march stood next to a banner that read "white coats for black lives." Each stated their message through their mask and into a bullhorn as the crowd cheered. They cited issues they've seen, including the black infant mortality rate, the number of black women who die during childbirth, and the need to recognize unconscious bias in diagnoses.

The group marched around the area of Eskenazi Hospital, Riley Hospital for Children and IU Health University Hospital. 

Marco Almeda and Brittany Huynh, residents and pediatricians, came out to protest in support of black lives for the first time, they said.

"A lot of these people are doctors, so we have a privilege that I think we should use to help," Almeda said.

Like their colleagues, they said they see bias in the way black patients are treated. Huynh said many African Americans suffer from sickle cell disease, inherited disorders that affect red blood cells. She said not enough resources have been put into studying how to better manage the pain it causes.

"I think there's that bias that plays into whether or not they're getting (medication) in a timely manner and exactly what they need," she said.

"A lot of times, I feel like their concerns or what they complain of gets dismissed a lot," Almeda said.

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