Last week in New York authorities announced that at Harlem Hospital Center, the largest health facility in that historic neighborhood, doctors had failed to read 4,000 heart tests—for three years—and that 200 of these patients died. These were not simply routine tests but echocardiograms, ordered when patients showed severe symptoms. That does not happen in affluent neighborhoods. Among other reasons, heart sickness is elsewhere an enormous profit opportunity—heart valve and bypass surgeries are a go-go business. But not for sick, poor people. Their Medicaid coverage fails to fully incentivize America’s insatiable medical industrial appetite. According to a cardiologist brought in on an emergency basis to start reading the long backlog of tests in Harlem, approximately half were abnormal and 20 to 30 percent needed immediate medical care. "This is very, very appalling," he told the New York Times.
And it’s not just in Harlem. Across the US, poor communities are grossly under-served: education, nutrition, housing and healthcare. To a large extent, this explains the chasm in life expectancy between white people and so-called minorities. How much worse does it get? A Brandeis University study recently underscored the growing wealth divide. According to the Federal Reserve, for every dollar of wealth owned by a white family, a black or Latino family owns just 16 cents.
And as this—the great marginalization of America marches on—Democrats, including the president, wrestle with Republicans for smidgeon of reform. Is it anywhere close to enough? For all the talk of Wall Street reform, and new consumer protections, and talk of alternative energy policy, the fact remains that for most people, America is a sinking ship. And minority communities are the first to be thrown over the side. Where are the lifeboats?
The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.