The National Medical Association (NMA), the nation’s oldest and largest organization representing African-American physicians, hosted its 16th National Colloquium on African-American Health March 8 – 11, at the Marriott Metro Center Hotel in Washington, D.C.

More than 160 local and out-of-state medical, civic, and religious leaders attended both sessions.

The panelists featured the Rev. Staccato Powell, pastor of Grace AME Zion Church in North Carolina; the Rev. Dr. Morris L. Shearin Sr., pastor of Israel Baptist Church in D.C.; Etoy Ridgnal, director of African American Engagement and Faith Based Initiatives for Enroll America; and Dr. Alice T. Chen, executive director of Doctors for America. The moderator was Diversity Advisory Council chairperson Dr. Pamela Freeman Fobbs, of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine Auxiliary to the National Medical Association in Fresno, Calif.

The first day of the colloquium opened with a briefing on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – what it is and the gap that continues to linger between people who need healthcare. Dr. Lucille Norville Perez, former NMA president was among many who posed concerns rather than questions to the panel. Although Perez applauded the efforts of community organizations in getting the word out to African Americans about ACA, she stated that racial inequality continues to plague the way Black patients are treated.

“When we talk about racism in medicine it’s something that the National Medical Association has been publishing since 1909 in our journal has been publishing and advocating it since 1895,” she said. “About 95 percent of the vote came from the Black community for our beloved President Obama. Yet, when we look at who is insured, who is not insured, who needs good health information about diet, or exercise, there’s a disparity in how the information is distributed.”

Perez said there should be”covenant collaboration” between NMA and its partners. “It’s important for our partners to advocate for us, just like we are advocating for everybody,” she said.

Rev. Powell concurred that more organizations and churches need to work together to address the marginalization of Black patients. Powell said he is aware that the ACA might have issues and problems, but it is a step to bringing civic groups together to brainstorm strategies to educate and empower the community.

Lawrence Sanders, an internist from Atlanta, discussed how faith-based organizations and physicians could care for people to ensure the best possible health at the end of life. “I believe that this combination of faith-based ideas, and what we do as physicians, have a natural relationship,” said Sanders. “But at the end of life, I believe they have probably the most significant relationship.”

Shearin responded that there are hospitals in the D.C. area that asks patients about their church affiliations and a contact person in the faith arena. “I think that as healthcare moves from a system based on value to a system based on quality and an outcome, collaboration becomes important,” said Sanders to the AFRO. “I wanted to raise that dialogue as a way of having us begin to think about what are concrete opportunities where the clergy of a faith-based organization and physicians and other clinicians can work together and how can we do it.”

Ridgnal said the topic raised important issues that needed to be addressed, especially in the African-American community. “I think this is a really layered topic and there’s so much nuance to it,” said Ridgnal. “I’m hoping that people leave feeling like there’s a more collaborative organizational structure now that they can fold into.”


Maria Adebola

Special to the AFRO