White Coats for Black Lives: La Crosse medical professionals join a national movement

White Coats for Black Lives
Courtesy of Mayo Clinic Health System

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT)– Local doctors, nurses and other medical providers are joining ‘White Coats For Black Lives.’ It’s a national movement to support protests around the country and address health disparities.

The list of disparities in healthcare is wide-ranging.

“From birth outcomes to chronic diseases, to death from COVID-19,” said Dr. Caroline Wilker, chair for the diversity and inclusion committee at Mayo Clinic Health System.

The risk of pregnancy-related deaths for black women is three to four times higher than those of white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Studies show black people are more likely to have hypertension or be obese.

Black people make up 25% of deaths from the disease in Wisconsin, according to the Department of Health. But they’re only 6.7% of the state’s population, according to census data.

“It’s important to start that discussion of why that is,” Wilker said.

She said there have been conversations about the reasons why, but the disparities remain.

“How to correct that is our responsibility as health care providers,” Wilker said.

So they’re taking a knee.

The White Coats for Black Lives movement started in 2014. It was organized by students after prosecutors did not charge officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Since then, thousands of medical professionals have joined in solidarity.

“Like you, we are angry, frustrated and saddened by ongoing prejudice, social injustices and racism in our society,” said Dr. Paul Mueller, regional vice president for Mayo Clinic Health System.

About 75 staff members knelt outside the Cancer and Surgery Center to show their support. They took the time to reflect on how to improve.

“Clearly there’s more work to be done,” Mueller said.

He said the provider conducts training on bias and how to recognize it within health care settings.

“That bias and prejudice can occur from our staff, it can also occur sometimes with our patients– where they have negative or biased attitudes toward our staff.  And how do we handle those events when they occur,” Mueller said.

Mayo Clinic Health System is also actively researching the disparities, educating themselves and participating in community outreach, according to Mueller.

“We’re here to acknowledge there’s an issue, that’s very important, and we’re here to listen,” Mueller said.

So they can help all who walk through their doors, especially people of color.