I recently read an article from the Missouri Independent titled, “Study reveals staggering toll of being Black in America: 1.6 million excess deaths over 22 years.” In summary, the article concluded that Black people live sicker lives and die younger than white people, and these deaths are fueled by higher rates of preventable health conditions. The authors acknowledge the high death rates among Black people are not from genetics alone, but from the discrimination and racism that has plagued our country and has been weaved into the fabric of how systems and policies have been designed around housing, education, and employment.
Though it seems that these disparities only impact a portion of the population, a study funded by the National Institute of Health found that in 2018, racial and ethnic health disparities cost the U.S. economy $451 billion. The massive financial toll is brought on by the health disparities across minoritized groups, including decreased access to care and increased exposure to environmental risks. The high-cost burden also varied among racial and ethnic groups, with the highest cost being borne by Black/African American population at about $310 billion due to high rates of premature mortality.
In Missouri’s 2023 legislative session, we saw attempts to stop systems and institutions from addressing the conditions that lead to early death for many Black Missourians and others. It is important during these times to reaffirm our commitment and unflinching stance on achieving our vision of zero health disparities. When we are willing to do this hard work, we will see all Missourians having the same opportunity to live a long, fulfilling life, and our economic potential will be unlocked, growing prosperity across our state.
At the RHC, we are proud to have successfully closed out our Gateway program that has provided health coverage for more over 67,000 St. Louisans for more than 10 years, and all Gateway members were successfully enrolled in Medicaid or another coverage option. While this is a great milestone for our twenty-year efforts of ensuring access to care, we understand that our work is not finished until race is not a predicator of one’s health outcomes and life expectancy. To do this, we must move upstream and employ a preventative systems-level change guided by community members experiencing unjust health outcomes.
We also recognize the generational harm and ripple effects caused by the early deaths experienced at higher rates in the Black community and among those living in poverty. As a leader in health justice, the RHC is merging with Alive and Well Communities whose mission is to “activate communities to heal.” All communities experience harm from trauma. And those exposed to the trauma of racism are at higher risk of unjust health outcomes. This merger allows us to implement a statewide strategy of bringing together cross-sector stakeholders and community members around a common goal of building healthy, healed communities. We believe it is possible to facilitate co-creation between impacted community members and our state’s institutions to change the conditions in our state that lead to early death and to facilitate healing from the trauma of these unjust and untimely deaths. We invite you to join the movement, signing up to be an Alive and Well ambassador.
Angela Fleming Brown
CEO, St. Louis Regional Health Commission