David Ansell, physician and health care activist, spoke Thursday night in the Rebecca Crown Center on the subject of health care.
Addressing an audience of primarily global health students, Ansell discussed his own experiences working as a physician in Chicago’s public Cook County Hospital. He also spoke on the implications of racial and economic inequality in the health care system and why a lack of access to health services, not biology, is the primary cause of health maladies among minorities.
Ansell worked at Chicago’s public Cook County Hospital from 1978 to 1995, where he witnessed various practices that “outraged” him, namely patient dumping. The phrase referred to private hospitals “dumping” emergency room patients at public hospitals because the patients had no health insurance.
“It was a system designed to kill people,” Ansell said.
He provided the example of a woman suffering from a breached labor who was turned away from a private hospital and transferred to Cook County. The woman later died in labor.
Moving into a discussion of racial inequality, Ansell provided statistics indicating stark inequality between black and white Chicago citizens. Chicago black women are 62 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, he said. He also noted that the average black man on the South Side will live 8 years less than the average white man, and a black 16-year-old boy stands a 50 percent chance of living to the age of 65, compared to 80 percent for white 16-year-old boys.
He also spoke about “communities of concentrated disadvantage,” racially segregated areas where poverty and a decaying private sector exacerbate the lack of access to health resources.
“What happens when you take all the rich people and middle class people out of a community?” he asked. “You have now created a separate America.”
Ansell concluded his speech by refuting the argument that certain races of people are predisposed to health maladies like diabetes and breast cancer because of “biology,” citing instead a lack of access to health services as the primary problem.
He indicated that while the mortality rate for white women diagnosed with breast cancer steadily declined between 1981 and 2007, the rate for black women remained the same.
“Evolutionary change doesn’t happen over 20 years,” Ansell said. “We’ve done it as a result of our own policies. We’re killing people.”
Ansell’s talk inspired many students in the audience, including SESP senior Alexandria Benifield, who is pursuing a minor in global health studies.
“It’s incredible how you have these people who are trying to change this whole system and you’re sitting in a room with students who are eager to go out and change it,” Benifield said.
McCormick senior Savannah Enders also appreciated the sentiment, but did not appreciate that Ansell paid exclusive attention to black suffering.
“I’ve taken a lot of global health classes, and his references to black people – it’s all minorities that are suffering all the consequences, so specifying it to one race, I don’t know about that,” she said.
Enders did respect Ansell’s hunger for change, however.
“My biggest takeaway was that you can have a passion and mobilize something as a senior,” she said. “I don’t want to work nine to five at a desk. I want to do something active and change something.”