A Disturbing Killing in Minneapolis: The Minnesota Medical Community Must Help Heal & Lead

    Post date: Friday, Jun 5, 2020
    It has been a sobering and difficult couple of weeks in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. His killing, captured in a graphic and horrifying video, was followed by peaceful protests and destructive riots both of which rightfully shook our state’s, and our country’s, arrogant claims of exceptionalism. Early claims by state and local leadership that the destruction and looting were the primary result of “outsiders” provided an easy excuse to avoid looking at ourselves. But let’s be honest – bigotry, oppression, and racism exist in Minnesota. And, no, it is not just a “city” or “urban” problem – these behaviors can be found in every community in our state and across the country. Will this time be different? Will, as his 6-year daughter Gianna said, George Floyd change the world?

    The MMA was founded, in part, to “…improve health and protect the lives of the community.” That same goal exists today as part of the MMA’s mission to, “make Minnesotans the healthiest in the nation.” Historically, physicians and the MMA have worked to improve health and protect lives by championing excellence in clinical care and by advocating for traditional public health interventions where the threat was most obvious – clean air and water, vaccinations, tobacco control, nutrition, exercise, seat belts, helmets, etc. More recently, the MMA declared gun violence a public health crisis.

    The MMA has also been committed to addressing Minnesota’s persistent and pernicious racial and ethnic health disparities and has begun efforts to increase the number of African American men entering medical school. To be honest, however, we count the MMA among those organizations that have spent more time talking about and analyzing the problems of health disparities and less time combatting much of the root cause (systemic racism) or demanding change in our society. Disparities in health are familiar to all of us – consider differences in mortality rates, birth outcomes, suicide, and COVID-19 infections, to name just a few. Yet these are largely the sequelae of long-standing, institutionalized racism – historic discrimination and bias in housing, employment, education, and more.

    So where do we go from here? We must all do the work to dismantle the legacies and policies that enable racism and bias, and we must dedicate ourselves to rooting it out of our health care organizations. As individuals and as members of our Minnesota medical profession, we need to listen; we need to hear from those voices that express how simply being Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, or another person of color too often challenges their ability to attain their full potential as human beings. We need to seek out ways that the strength and influence of physicians’ voices can make a difference.

    We must all look critically at how our clinics, hospitals, medical staffs, and professional organizations are contributing to making the necessary changes:
    • Do diversity and inclusion policies exist and, more importantly, are they activated and lived out in behaviors?
    • Do we have policies to reject racism by patients to protect medical and non-medical staff from abuse?
    • Do our organizational leaders promote an anti-racism culture and reflect and amplify the values of inclusion and equity?
    • Do we fully utilize the expertise and experience of our minority colleagues?
    • Do we honestly assess policy change that questions the status quo?
    • Do we invoke a “health equity timeout” to examine whether new policies and practices advance or stifle progress?
    • Do we recognize the lived experience of racism, microaggressions, and social determinants as risk factors for disease?
    • How do we reveal and resolve our explicit and implicit biases in the care of patients and the conduct toward our minority colleagues?  
    • As individual members of society, have we ever projected blame for police brutality on the victims?
    If we look back and examine ourselves, it should not have taken worldwide protests to come to this point. After all, what happened to George Floyd, sadly, is not new. As physicians we are leaders in our communities, and we need to be an integral part of these solutions.  It is, and always has been, our role as physicians to speak up for those whose voices are not heard.  

    With humility, we call for an end of observing the problem. Now is the time to act! We have called upon our Policy Council, Public Health Committee, and Health Equity Advisory Committee to work together to identify both urgent short-term and long-term additional actions the MMA must take. Please share your thoughts, ideas, and recommendations for their consideration. On behalf of the MMA, we will listen, learn, and leverage our capacity to make a bigger difference. Please help us realize our goal to make Minnesotans – ALL Minnesotans –the healthiest in the nation so that all Minnesotans can realize the liberties guaranteed to us all.  
    Keith Stelter, MD, MMA President
    Randy Rice, MD, MMA Board Chair
    Dionne Hart, MD, MMA Board Member and CO-Chair, MMA Health Equity Advisory Committee
    Janet Silversmith, MMA CEO
Current rating: 3 (1 ratings)
Abbe Penziner-Bokde
Thank you for putting this unwavering statement into our midst, and I feel hopeful that our newest generation of health leaders will have, with us by their sides, a stronger foundation from which to continue this vital work. Our lives, and the lives of our patients depend upon it now as ever.
As a General Pediatrician, a school based health advocate, I can envision this powerful message amplified even further if the undersigned include leadership from the range MN health communities and organizations and submitted for publication in the Star Tribune as a full page public service announcement, in addition to a letter to the editor format. I for one am prepared to commit my time and resources to such an effort (the connecting of invested stakeholders and fundraising).
Much like the amazing work that the MMA, MN AAP, and MN FAAP have done together with professional webinar series, I can envision a joint public stance for all of Minnesota to see, with a list as far as the page can hold and beyond of each of us together as one voice.
I do not think myself original in these thoughts, just humbly prepared as a transplanted MN health professional to keep the momentum going as far and as wide as our imaginations for a better union can take us.
6/7/2020 10:58:33 AM
leo mrozek
I agree wholly with your email. I think you need to go further and state that the MMA does not condone mob violence, anarchy and fear. I have friends sleeping with loaded guns in their living rooms near their Lake Street homes for protection and my daughter with great haste left her apartment for fear of violence and harm. I would like to believe all persons disavow violence and fear from mob action in a civilized society.
Leo Mrozek M.D.
6/6/2020 3:41:14 PM
A. Stuart Hanson
The nine points in the the MMA statement are all good, but they do not address the fundamental problem. We have a major disparity in community resources that the statement does address. The disparity in income between whites and people of color is stark. Minneapolis has the greatest disparity in the nation. Access to healthcare, access to stable housing, access to quality education, and access to food are four other areas of disparity. What are the MMA's positions on economic equity, education equity, healthcare equity, housing stability, and nutritious food access for all Minnesota citizens? Does the MMA support the elimination of poverty in Minnesota families. That would require a wealth transfer by taxation. Does the MMA support comprehensive health insurance for all Minnesotans to go along with nine statements listed above? That would require a unified healthcare financing system. Does the MMA support reversing the two decade decline in real spending on K-12 and the first two years of post high school education? Does the MMA advocate for housing subsidies to eliminate homelessness and create stable individual and family housing? Does the MMA support food subsidies that assure a nutritious diet for all Minnesotans? These are the public health issues that could began to reduce the disparities between populations that frustrate so many people of color in Minnesota. Will the MMA rise to the occasion?
6/5/2020 11:20:25 PM
Mark Brakke
Justice demands affordable health care for ALL.
The models for a universal, affordable health care system have been designed, built and tested. The other modern high income nations of the world are showing us daily it can be done. Are we capable of learning?
6/5/2020 11:10:52 PM
Cynthia L. Olson, MD
Aside from each of us soul-searching about how we speak to and think about our patients of color, I think the thing that the MMA could do to help the most would be to redouble our efforts to create and sustain an educational pipeline to prepare students of color to enter and succeed in the health professions. I would LOVE to have more black colleagues, in particular, and more black residents to teach. Such students would likely need more mentoring and economic support to navigate the application and interview processes, as well as better preparation in the K-12 schoold.
6/5/2020 4:38:50 PM
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