Learning about Segregated Care with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

Screen shot from the video "Segregated Care" by the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. By Sophie Gray, Program Coordinator, Partners for Change

This Wednesday, I had the pleasure of sitting in on our new Partners for Change Health Justice Fellows’ seminar. We met at the offices of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) in midtown, the dynamic organization where our leader-in-residence, Shena Elrington, directs the Health Justice Program.

The session began with a discussion about the history of the medical system and how it resulted in hospital segregation. Students were surprised to learn that health care and hospitals were actually at the forefront of the “separate but equal” and eventually desegregation movement.  After putting on their "lawyer hats," the students took an in-depth look at the legal language used to define the desegregation laws, then at the resulting policies and cases. such as Hill-Burton and the Simkins case, that were fought over minute details in the phrasing of the law.

Defining Structural Racism Students were then asked about structural racism and if any of them knew what it was or how to define it. While it can be hard to pick up on in systems such as health care, structural racism plays out in the infrastructure of our existing systems and those systems act to perpetuate certain outcomes that are reflective of history. Some students shared personal anecdotes when the topic shifted into physician bias and a reading they had done about patients’ race/sex affecting physician decision-making.

We transitioned into the final part of the seminar by watching the NYLPI Health Justice Program’s campaign video, “Segregated Care,” which highlights the campaign Shena has been most busy with recently. The short, 5-minute video does a wonderful job of explaining some of the complex topics covered in the seminar

Although much of the discussion could have felt frustrating and disheartening, Shena’s work adds hope by reminding us of the importance that laws and policies play in dismantling structural racism. The students were so engaged and inspired that by the end of the session, they were still discussing the topics as we headed to the train through the busy streets of midtown. There is no doubt that these sessions are training our fellows to not only become well-rounded physicians, but also political advocates.

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