Lenon Hill first responders taking a knee (294309)
Credit: Liam Sharp photo

Members of the New York Professional Nurses Union and first responders from Lenox Hill Hospital recently took a knee in support of the movement for Black lives. The demonstration was planned for the annual celebration of Juneteenth, where the New York Professional Nurses Union also provided on-site voter registration.

“As we celebrate Juneteenth today, it’s imperative that we recognize the systemic racism and injustices in all areas of American society––including in our healthcare system,” said New York Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, chair of the Council’s Committee on Hospitals. “The fact that maternal morbidity is so disturbingly high among women of color, or that hospitals, medical practitioners, and insurance companies all have other issues providing equitable treatment to patients of color, shows just how deep an issue this is.

“As chair of the Council’s Committee on Hospitals, I’ve been proud to champion numerous efforts to address these systemic challenges, including improvements to front-line staffing levels, a universal Medicare-for-All insurance plan and radical changes to how race is addressed in medical education. I know that unions including the New York Professional Nurses Union understand the fight we are in for racial and healthcare equity, and I’m proud to celebrate with them today and encourage others to join us.”

“We organized this event to address the pandemic of racism in America, which has infected our society for centuries and counting,” said Eileen Toback, executive director of the New York Professional Nurses Union. “As many healthcare workers know, there is a direct correlation between human rights and healthcare, or lack thereof. The sooner we start identifying the racism in healthcare within our own communities, the sooner we can begin to rebuild a system that has devastated millions of Black communities throughout history.

“Since the coronavirus pandemic began, people of color, particularly Black Americans, are experiencing far more serious illnesses and death due to COVID-19 than white people. Over the past several weeks, both the police and COVID-19 have attacked Black people disproportionately more than any other demographic. Several scientific studies have confirmed that Black people suffer higher rates of mistreatment in U.S. hospitals, clinics and physician offices. Health insurance companies are currently being investigated for using racially-biased algorithms to withhold care from Black patients. The reality of racism in healthcare and in our country is shameful, unacceptable and absolutely must change. Every industry must commit to a very difficult, serious internal review to identify the biases and disparities and make systemic changes.

“Our demonstration is a small token of our unequivocal support for Black healthcare workers, essential workers, the community we care for and the Black Lives Matter movement. Nurses are committed to doing the hard, long-term work to address every pandemic, including the disparities and bias affecting healthcare.”