The politicized hysteria of Ebola might seem ridiculous until the reality raps on your door, and you’re told a student where you teach was on an infected plane. The roots of this crisis can be solved, not simply by hiring a new czar or erecting containment fields, but by recognizing the humanity of those in care in our nation’s health system, especially our largest state, Texas.
Still, we breathe a sigh of relief that 43 potentially infected persons have been cleared while finding the comedy of errors in this fiasco hard to shake. That two Dallas nurses have now contracted Ebola in addition to the now-deceased Thomas Duncan, a Liberian immigrant initially sent home from a Texas hospital with Tylenol, serves as damming proof. Let us not forget there are still more than 100 people being monitored for the disease in Texas, not including passengers who sat within three feet of fevered nurse, Amber Vinson, who boarded the Cleveland-bound plane with the blessing of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Equally hard to escape are the implications about race, health care and class in the Lone Star state. While it is clear a lack of proper training and safety protocols are a huge part of what went wrong, it’s also really not hard to see the nature of racial disparities in health care at work, too.
Before the Affordable Care Act was launched earlier this year, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported: “The significant majority (82 percent) of the 1 million uninsured [Hispanic] adults in the coverage gap reside in just three states, with nearly six in 10 (59 percent) in Texas alone.” Among blacks, 12 percent of 1.3 million uninsured adults lived in Texas.
Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately represented among the nation’s poor, and those living in states like Texas, Tennessee, Alaska, Utah, Maine and South Carolina have been barred from participating in the national effort to extend healthcare coverage. Despite federal subsidies that would cover Medicaid expansion for three years and 90 percent thereafter, Gov. Perry of Texas has refused to expand Medicaid.
The result is masses of working-poor and otherwise uninsured patients continue to overcrowd emergency rooms waiting long hours to see doctors and nurses who are themselves overworked, unprotected by unions and left to complain about workplace conditions at their peril.
“We’ve identified 7,000 patients who seem to be high-utilizers of the emergency department,” Parkland Hospital Spokeswoman Sharon Phillips said to The Dallas Morning News, of users who account for a fifth of ER visits. “It seems they are very sick people, perhaps with diabetes or heart failure.”
Even with better screening, the reality is ER waiting rooms are no panacea for dealing with easily treatable illnesses under the best of circumstances. Consider: Mike Herrera who presented to Parkland with severe pain and died waiting to be seen. Are hospitals really going to do better if someone else turns up in an overcrowded ER with Ebola-like symptoms and no insurance?
As more evidence surfaces of the ways patients, health-care workers and citizens in Texas have been endangered, owing in no small part to the lack of CDC oversight, the picture suggests that because black deaths have not been taken seriously by various governmental agencies, many more people of every race and ethnicity are at risk.
Truly guarding against the spread of this disease and others means suspending the national pastime of withholding life-saving resources from those in need – if only to save ourselves.