“As a 43-year-old Black woman, I have an intimate understanding of how it feels not to be believed by your healthcare provider,” Altimare stressed.
EHE Health, which was a sponsor for this year’s first-ever Root Institute, is a 107-year-old company rooted in preventative healthcare, although who received said care and attention was once less diverse than its current clientele.
“It was really focusing on older white men who were executives in our country and really wanted to keep them healthy,” she said. As a preventative healthcare expert, Altimare specializes in a holistic understanding of how every part of a person’s life—from the gender pay gap to living in a food desert—plays a role in life outcomes.
“Healthcare, when done correctly, is really pulling across all of those different characteristics of how our society runs and making sure that we’re removing inequalities in every single one of those variables,” she said.
Nonetheless, Altimare is acutely aware of how the American healthcare industry has either completely neglected or abused Black folks. The Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the story of Henrietta Lacks, and the history of American gynecology are just a few examples of how medical racism shaped Black people’s distrust of and dissatisfaction with the medical establishment to this day, even during a global pandemic.
“That is the shared history this country has around healthcare and people of color,” added Altimare. “COVID has highlighted the inequalities that exist in health care. But they didn’t start today. The inequalities in healthcare began many, many, many years ago. And what we’re feeling is the effect of ignoring those inequalities and not coming up with policies to combat them.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Black Americans are nearly five times as likely to be hospitalized due to COVID and more than twice as likely to die from the novel coronavirus than their white counterparts.
Polls show time and again that healthcare is a top concern for voters ahead of the 2020 election. And as conversations surrounding the inequalities that exist in healthcare become more mainstream, Joy Altimare grows increasingly hopeful for the future as we continue advocating for ourselves.
“We should be focused really on understanding the policies that are going to be put into place that will help or hurt us or hurt us for generations to come,” she said.
Altimare breaks down why we need and deserve a holistic and equitable system in the video above.