Voting Catholic: Is health care a sacred human right?

Medical staffers are seen in a file photo caring for a COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit at Pope John XXIII hospital in Bergamo, Italy. (CNS photo/Flavio Lo Scalzo, Reuters) June 17, 2020.

No one had to describe the problem of health care inequity based on race to Dr. Rhonda Medows. She has experienced it both professionally and personally.

At Providence, a non-profit Catholic health care system, she is the president of population health, a subset of health care that focuses on the health of groups. She is also the C.E.O. of Ayin Health Solutions, a population health management company. She understands firsthand how and why health outcomes can vary widely among different communities.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Medows has often found herself in board meetings conducted over Zoom. She said that the people in her meetings often have good intentions but their different experiences with Covid-19 can cloud their judgment.

“In our discussions, we always talked about the need to make sure that we provided support for people who were negatively impacted by Covid, by the recession, by social-justice issues, by health disparities and health inequities,” she told Sebastian Gomes, America’s executive editor and the host of Voting Catholic, a new podcast. “But what I didn't hear was the part about asking [people for] their truth and asking them what they thought, what they experienced and what they needed.”

That was when Dr. Medows raised a virtual hand and told them her own story.

Her fellow board members seemed to have no close calls with Covid-19, but as a Black woman, Dr. Medows has had a vastly different experience. “Through my large extended family, [I suffered] the loss of nine people,” she said. “It is also something that is unfortunately not uncommon. I was trying to get across to them that, losing nine [family] members over the course of a couple of months, there’s a despair, a devastation that is hard to describe.”

Dr. Medows could see the looks on their faces over Zoom, shocked and disbelieving.

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“I could see someone just mouth, ‘Nine?’” she said. “‘How could you lose nine family members?’ And then I understood that they don’t see this every day.”

The loss that Dr. Medows experienced over the course of the pandemic has strengthened her belief that health care is a basic human right.

“[My family members] were the victims of not just decades, but hundreds of years of health inequities and health disparities that led us to this day,” she said. “The health care system, as well as the entire country, must change. If we believe that everyone should have access to quality health care, then that's the way we have to act.”

As an expert on population health, Dr. Medows explained that health solutions must focus on ways to keep communities safe. This means taking preventative measures like addressing people’s “education, their income, the economy, access to schools” and other social determinants that will lead to healthier communities, both physically and mentally.

Dr. Meadows said that politicians have only been making “little, tiny, incremental changes” and that they shifted the definition of health care “to meet their individual agenda.”

“And then we got to Covid and the first thing we learned is that none of that matters,” she said. “None of that worked. None of that helped to stop the harm, the hurt and the death because we were not true to what we were speaking.”

Dr. Medows said that Catholic voters must take an active role in “removing the politics, removing the partisanship, removing the hate, removing all of the things that make it so difficult to just do the job that we know needs to be done.”

Dr. Medows talks more about her family history, the importance of preventative measures in health care and the importance of voting for politicians who put health care first on Voting Catholic, a new podcast by America Media that helps Catholics discern how to vote in the 2020 presidential election.

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Correction (Oct. 5, 2020): Voting Catholic does not seek to endorse candidates. A quote expressing an endorsement has been edited from this report.

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