The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted Black Americans, spotlighting a problem that has persisted for decades: systemic healthcare inequality. In addition to infecting communities of color at higher rates, the pandemic has exacerbated disparities in every aspect of healthcare—from preventive medicine to hospital access and maternal health.
“Black women are three to four times more likely to die as a result of childbirth nationally than white women, and in our state of Illinois, black women are six times more likely to die,” Rep. Lauren Underwood said during a recent virtual event hosted by the University of Chicago. “These disparities have persisted my entire lifetime, and I’m 33. So I knew that when I got sworn in, this was something that I wanted to work on.”
Elected in 2018 to represent Illinois’ 14th district, Underwood is a registered nurse and the youngest Black woman ever sworn into Congress. On Sept. 10, she spoke as part of the UChicago Urban Network’s panel, “Racism as a Public Health Crisis for America’s Cities,” discussing how racism in healthcare manifests at the individual and societal level, as well as paths forward through improved practice and policy.