“It is time to come home, America. Time to look within our own borders and within our own souls,” Sen. Robert Byrd said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “There are many questions to be answered and many missions to accomplish right here on our own soil.”

The disaster in New Orleans has reaffirmed that America’s ongoing failure to address racial injustice is our great, unaccomplished mission at home. African-Americans still face unequal treatment in housing, education, the workforce, and perhaps most insidiously, the medical care they receive (or fail to receive). Three recently released studies show that black patients are substantially less likely to receive heart bypass surgery, blood vessel repairs, joint replacements, and other important procedures than whites. According to Asish Jha of Harvard Medical School, these studies indicate that “Overall blacks and whites receive very different health care in this country.”

Finally, an organization has emerged to confront the crisis of unequal care. This summer, Massachusetts General Hospital announced the creation of the Disparities Solution Center–the first institution specifically dedicated to bridging the health gap. As Dr. Thomas Inui of the Regenstrief Institute for Health Care, told the Boston Globe, “We’re really finished with the time in which we need more studies showing disparities exist. Now, we need to show how to close the gaps.”

The Center is being headed by Dr. Joseph Bentacourt, whose landmark study, “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial Disparities in Health Care,” brought national attention to the issue. With $3 million in initial funding, Bentacourt says the Center will be a “living laboratory” in which doctors, academic researchers, and patients will collaborate on solutions and present their recommendations to hospitals, health care providers, and government officials throughout the country.

This deep-rooted problem won’t be solved overnight, but the creation of the Disparities Solutions Center is a crucial first step–the exact sort of national soul searching and forward thinking we need in these devastating times.

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Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.