Calling the closure of hospitals in Black and Brown communities a national crisis, Georgia NAACP Second Vice President Karen Rene late Tuesday, December 13, called on Black U.S. mayors, the Congressional Black Caucus and other leaders to hold a national summit to address the issue and develop and address a similar social justice agenda.
Rene said it is time for African American elected officials to unite over common issues in Black communities such as crime, homelessness, jobs and education, but especially health care, which she says is in a national state of crisis.
With that kind of unified political power, Rene said that is why she is calling for a national health care summit that would include addressing the common dilemmas of crime, poverty, employment and food insecurity.
Rene was referring to the seven Black mayors who are running the largest cities in America including Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Mayors Eric Johnson of Dallas, Vi Lyles of Charlotte, Cavalier Johnson of Milwaukee, Eric Adams of New York and Karen Bass of Los Angeles and Sylvester Turner of Houston.
Most of these cities have a majority Black and Hispanic population and the socio-economic matters are challenging. Black mayors also have control of 14 of the nation’s most populous cities.
Rene and Reverend Paul Jakes, pastor of the New Tabernacle of Faith Baptist Church who worked closely with Rene and other Georgia officials during the recent special election, said there should be a united front around these common social, economic, crime and health issues that negatively affect people of color across the nation.
“It is time for all of us to hold elected officials accountable for the collapse of the health care system, not just in Georgia where Republican Governor Brian Kemp refuses to accept Medicaid expansion which is the lifeline to Black and Brown communities,” Rene told the Chicago Crusader.
“In Georgia alone, six hospitals have closed under Kemp’s leadership,” Rene said, “including the latest, the Atlanta Medical Center.
“When you have governors who refuse to accept Medicaid expansion available under the Affordable Care Act, it prevents more than 500,000 Georgians from getting the medical care they need.”
Rene pointed to other southern states like Arkansas, Kentucky and Louisiana that have signed onto Medicaid expansion.
“When you have governors like this (Kemp) who continue to reject Medicaid expansion, you put the lives of mostly Black and Brown people at risk. If you have a heart attack and the nearest hospital is 20 minutes away, lives may be lost,” Rene stated.
She and Jakes said health care in America is in a crisis and it should not be placed on life support or “death” by politicians who opposed other political leaders.
Rene said there are some Republican governors who have accepted Medicaid expansion “which can be the difference between the life or death of a hospital.”
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 1.4 million people in Georgia lack health insurance which is 50 percent higher than the national average. Referring to Governor Kemp, Rene said under his leadership, Georgia’s uninsured rate is 14.5 percent, the second highest in America.
“We have this problem of hospital closures all across America, but six have closed under Kemp’s administration and that is unacceptable,” she said. “We have to hold everybody accountable.”
In an exclusive interview with the Chicago Crusader late Tuesday, the Georgia City Councilwoman said six hospitals have closed in the Georgia area and two so far in the Atlanta metropolitan area including the Atlanta Medical Center which had 600 beds.
“This was in the Black community that is being gentrified, she said.
Offering an explanation for the hospital closings, Rene pointed a finger at Republican governors who continue to reject Medicaid expansion funds under the Affordable Care Act.
“Accepting Medicaid expansion is the life line these struggling hospitals need to survive,” said Rene, adding “to do otherwise will eventually place them on life support and die which is what is happening in Georgia and across the nation. “It’s time for us to step up and collectively fight back.”
Rene said silence from Black elected officials and others, on the matter, is no longer acceptable.
Jakes, who said he would reach out to Representative Danny K. Davis (D-7th) commented, “We commend Councilwoman Rene for being the voice to the voiceless. We Chicagoans are willing to march and put our feet on the ground to support this effort for healthcare.”
Rene said Canada has a great health system.
“It is free,” she said, noting that in the U.S. “in cities like Georgia you have health facilities that close with no input from the community or no advertising placing the existing hospitals on life support. We have to hold our elected officials accountable.”
She used Senator Raphael Warnock as an example. Rene said when he went to Washington, D.C. two years ago he fought against the rising cost of insulin. “People were paying $450 a month for insulin. The price is too high but without it, people will die. Health care is in a crisis,” she stated.
“As rich as America is, there is no excuse for hospitals closing in such an alarming rate,” Rene said. She believes health care should be a non-profit business. Jakes blamed the closings on “racism.”
“For hospitals to hold communities hostage and not transfer it (certification) to other hospitals would be a problem. I think it is a conversation that must be had on a national level,” Rene said. “Pressure must be applied.”