Madison woman shares experience after officials call racism a "public health crisis"

MADISON, Wis (WMTV) -- Over a month after Dane County Public Health officials called racism a “public health crisis,” a Madison woman said she has experienced the effects of this "crisis" first-hand.

Typhanny Greene has a hand in almost everything at the Madison Community Center.

"You know a little bit of finance a lot of just helping people with whatever their needs are whether it's food or housing," she said.

She had to put her helping hands on pause one year ago, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"Unfortunately they found some spots that were a little funny,” she said.

She went through radiation, and throughout treatment she had questions for the doctor.

"So I said, 'Will it make a difference since I'm a women of color as far as the radiation I went through and how is that going to affect things' and they don't know specifically and that was quite concerning to me," Greene said.

Greene said her cancer battle was hard enough and not having the answers to all questions that can affect her long term was shocking.

"We are relying on these people that have gone to medical school and special training to be able to guide us along on our health journeys, and if you can't answer what I don't think are difficult questions, it's scary," she said.

"We have patients asking very specific things related to their cultural experiences that we need to be answering," Erin Bailey, UW-Madison community-based researcher said.

Bailey works at UW-Madison Carbone Cancer Center. She recently did a study on barriers and opportunities for breast cancer screening and risk reduction among black women.

Greene was not a part of the study. Her experience is an example of what others see in Dane County.

“Inherently racist is systems in the United States have been set up primarily by white men and white institutions,” Bailey said.

She believes it’s one of the reasons why most white doctors are not able to provide culturally competent care to people of color.

“If you’ve grown up in a place where everyone looks like you and has the same skin issues and hair type as you age and go into another profession where you’re touching other people, your own personal experiences become mirrors and narratives for how you treat other people,” she said.

She said unless doctors have extensive knowledge about different cultures they will not have the experience to treat them.

“This is one of those situations where it is inherently racist inside of the system, but that doesn’t mean the person or system is being racist on purpose,” Bailey said.

Bailey explained racism is built in institutions historically, and it continues to deprive marginalized groups of rights and privileges.

It’s a problem that Dane County has seen first-hand.

"Part of culturally aligned healthcare is bringing solutions, which are oriented and engineered to support each community in a way that it has specific needs," Chris Kastman, Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin Chief Medical Officer said.

Group Health Cooperative is one of the member organizations who signed on with Dane County Health Council to declare racism a public health crisis.

"The inequities between health outcomes in the white and black community are absolutely unacceptable. In Wisconsin, in our county, we have some of the worst inequities between black and white communities. When you look at health outcomes like infant mortality and the magnitude in the disparities, it absolutely deserves to be called a crisis,” Kastman said.

According to the 2019-2021 Dane County Health Needs Assessment the infant mortality rate for black mothers is 13/1000 births, which is triple the rate compared to 4/1000 births for white mothers.

"We want to support the training of more Doula's of color to support more African American mother's throughout the journey of their pregnancy and labor to support those good health outcomes," Kastman said.

He explained making sure every race is given the best treatment is important so people, just like Greene, have a fair shot at a healthy life.

"You start to develop a cycle where when there are poor birth outcomes that sets up a lot of challenges situations both in the health and economic perspective for communities of color and those patterns become more entrenched and create more hardships that the next generation has to work to overcome. That affects the entirety of our city, state and country," Kastman said.

Dane County Health Council said acknowledging the problem is the first step, and they're still figuring out how to move forward in terms of combating the issue.

Damond Boatwright, SSM Health Regional President, said in a statement:

“SSM Health is committed to confronting racism and bias. This declaration is the first step in creating change, and we will work to make a better future by emphasizing equal care, increasing inclusion education and establishing partnerships to create a diverse workforce. We are truly stronger together.”