As I write this blog post, I shift my gaze towards the Manhattan skyline, hundreds of miles from the city I was supposed to call home for the summer. Looking for ways to connect my daily life on the east coast to my DukeEngage experience, I searched The New Yorker archives for articles about Detroit, ultimately uncovering a piece by reporter Benjamin Wallace-Wells entitled, “Inequality Intensifies the Coronavirus Crisis in Detroit.” Despite the obvious differences between New York City and Detroit, both were heavily impacted by COVID-19. More specifically, this disease had disparate impacts on these cities’ most vulnerable populations. That said, Detroit has greater concentrations of poverty and racial minorities. This article describes the role of socioeconomic status and race in shaping health outcomes in the context of COVID-19 as well as the ways in which certain features of the U.S. healthcare system exacerbate these issues. Written in the early stages of demographic data collection on those who died of COVID-19, Wallace-Wells predicts that black communities are most at risk because of the collection of comorbidities among this population. He argues that doctors and patients are not only fighting a disease, but also structures of inequality.
What interested me most about this article was its relevance to my internship with MedHealth, a non-profit dedicated to expanding medical innovation to improve the quality of care in Southeast Michigan. After the first few weeks on the job, I have learned how the inefficiencies and inequalities in healthcare stifle innovation and progress. MedHealth plays a crucial role in repairing this fragmented system. Although MedHealth operates in the medical device and digital health space, they recognize the role of policy, socioeconomic status, and race in shaping health outcomes. MedHealth collaborates with major healthcare systems mentioned in this article. Referencing Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System, Wallace-Wells writes, “the coronavirus pandemic has had a way of turning even the most prestigious hospitals into community-health operations.” While HFHS used to be a medical hub that would draw patients and doctors from all over the country, travel restrictions changed everything. During COVID-19, the majority of patients come from Detroit. The author of this article portrays this development as neutral, but I see it as positive. Major healthcare systems should not just be supporting the vulnerable members of their communities during times of crisis. Addressing immediate needs and mitigating risks based on socioeconomic status and race should be a shared priority for all stakeholders.