Santa Clara County doctors selected for national health care anti-racism program

Manuel Ortiz Escámez / Alianza News

It is Sunday morning, a day of rest for Dr. Judith Sanchez, a gynecologist at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. However, instead of staying home to rest, she dedicates her free hours as a volunteer doing COVID-19 tests at the Arturo Ochoa Migrant Center, a place that provides care to farm workers in Gilroy, California.

Sanchez, like Sofia Mahari, are two prominent doctors at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center who were selected (along with Maryann Abiodun Pitts) to participate in the Disparities Leadership Program (DLP) 2020-2021, which aims to eradicate racist practices in the medical service.

The systematic racism that exists in the U.S. medical services, Mahari told Alianza News, contributes to the fact that people of African descent and Latinos are more likely to die or suffer from medical complications in hospitals.

“What the research shows us is that some doctors unconsciously contribute to racist practices. People of color receive less pain medication and less anticoagulants to prevent heart attacks. Black and brown mothers are three times more likely to die than white mothers during childbirth, just as black and brown babies are three times more likely to die than white babies,” Mahari said.

The DLP is based at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and is designed to enable health care leaders to identify the causes and consequences of racism in hospitals and then eradicate it through a variety of strategies.

“Our participation in DLP will allow us to deepen our studies on the differences and similarities between our hospital [Santa Clara Valley Medical Center] and others, as well as to identify racist practices and eradicate them in order to provide fairer and more equitable care to our patients,” added Sanchez.

Dr. Sanchez was born in the United States, but considers herself Mexican because her grandparents were migrants from Mexico. She says her grandparents and the movement in defense of farm workers César Chávez inspired her to study medicine and serve the migrant community. For her, racism is a systematic and old problem in the United States.

“There are problems in the medical system, caused by racism, but we don’t know or understand them. There are medical personnel who are prejudiced against their patients but don’t know it,” said Sanchez.

Regarding the recent scandal of alleged non-consensual hysterectomies (removal of the uterus) of migrant women at the Irwin detention center in Georgia, Sanchez said, “This is nothing new. There have always been practices like this because of racism from many years ago. I know the same thing happened to many Latina migrant women in Los Angeles, they even made a film called No More Babies based on that case,” Sanchez said.

“When we go to medical school, we make a promise not to hurt people. I don’t understand how it is that there are doctors who are willing to harm people; it must be because of racism and prejudice, possibly those doctors are not even aware that they are racist. That is why the Disparities Leadership Program in which we are going to participate is so important,” concluded Sanchez.