Honoring Black History Month

Friday, February 12, 2021

Rhett Cummings, MD

Black History Month is a time to reflect on where our nation has been and where we currently stand regarding systemic racism, human rights, and social and economic injustice. The Oregon Clinic’s unique perspective as a health care provider allows us to witness firsthand how these inequalities are playing out during the COVID-19 pandemic for our local Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) population. The differences have been very obvious.

We have battled this virus daily in our intensive care units in Portland. It is astonishing to observe that 80% of our critical COVID-19 patients are BIPOC, which recognizably translates into substantially higher deaths and disability in our most vulnerable populations. In response, attending physicians have learned to lower thresholds for transferring COVID-19 infected BIPOC patients to our ICU. With early detection of more severe symptoms and clinical signs in BIPOC patients, more aggressive care and intensive support can be employed. However, we also know that interventions far sooner than ICU care will have a much greater impact on outcomes.

Many reasons for the extreme disparities in the impact of COVID have been apparent to us for quite some time: poor access to healthcare, implicit bias and racism in healthcare that have created utilization barriers including a historical lack of trust, increased health comorbidities, inequities in education and income, disproportionately higher numbers of essential workers, greater housing challenges, and even possibly weakened immunity from the chronic stress of discrimination. 

At The Oregon Clinic, we are committed to working toward a more just and equitable society, to better understanding and awareness, and to take actions as an organization to reduce disparities in healthcare outcomes. Although we paused our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) Initiative while we addressed the COVID surge, our leadership team has determined it is time to restart this critical work.

Let’s celebrate Black History Month with optimism and focus on a better future.