Addressing racism as a public health issue in Maryland

A panel of doctors, legislators and community leaders discussed the impact of racism in American health care at the 2021 Maryland State of Reform Health Policy Conference. 

Drawing from their own experiences, panelists discussed the way racism impacts different health care silos and what can be done to promote health equity. The conversation featured Sen. Mary Washington, Dr. Nicole Rochester, Dr. Michelle Gourdine, and Rev. Dr. Sandra Conner of Sehpard’s Hear Missionary Baptist Church. 


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The panelists begin with a deeper look into the history of American policy making and health care institutions, highlighting the underlying ideologies of white supremacy that exist within these institutions and continue to cause disparities for communities of color. 

Sen. Washington says a key part of addressing racism in the public health sphere is by looking at the social determinants of health. Citing a model that reported the lack of vaccine distribution in Maryland’s Black population, she said: 

“[The vaccine distribution model] didn’t look at access issues, didn’t look at the fact that there wasn’t a phone number, that it was sign-up-online, or that there was a digital divide…There’s a difference between equal and equitable distribution.”

Sen. Washington says another barrier to addressing racism as a public health issue is a lack of acknowledgement or immediate defensiveness from institutions. 

“If we just accept [racism in the public health sphere] as a reality, and then we can begin to, as policy makers, work towards ending it and breaking down the barriers.”

Other topics in the panel include looking at hiring and retention processes in health care institutions, community-based care approaches, and updates from this year’s legislative session on increasing behavioral health outreach, Medicare reimbursement, and post-partum benefit extensions.  

Watch the full panel above or at this link.