Healthcare Inequalities in Boston

Nathaniel Cooper

Oftentimes, Boston is considered to be one of the leading cities in research in the healthcare industry. Institutions such as Harvard, BU, and Tufts that all have medical schools and research hospitals whose research benefits the stem fields far and wide. Institutions such as these have been the cornerstone of Boston’s pride in calling itself one of the world leaders in academia. Tens of thousands of workers and billions of dollars are used to conduct research in the medical field and surrounding industries in Boston every year. Despite this, Boston has failed to provide a system of healthcare that does not systematically benefit some, namely wealthy and white, community members more than the poorer minorities in Boston. Discriminatory laws, policies, and practices by government, corporations, and individuals in the past have led to the present condition where some groups, far more than others, are able to receive quality healthcare despite laws that are supposed to protect Americans from discrimination.

The emerald necklace is a park system that provides community members of Boston an escape from the harsh city environment in a format that is functional for people-powered transportation, such as walking and biking. Although the park does provide a positive experience for the community members in Boston, if one take a moment to experience the city around them as they move through the park system, they may start to notice the stark differences in opportunities available to Bostonians depending on their economic or social background. As you move through the various communities that lay along the emerald necklace, you will pass by people leaving their houses and apartments that may sell for millions of dollars, then only minutes later along the necklace you may see a person who suffers from drug addiction issues using the park as a home. Although these two people may have been born in the same city at the same point in history, the access that they had to proper mental and physical healthcare are likely to be far different.

This tour will articulate the Emerald necklace (and Boston as a whole) as a relational landscape by observing the long history of housing discrimination, environmental racism, inequalities in education opportunities, and other systematically discriminatory situations that have made present day lower income communities around the emerald necklace (and Boston in general) simultaneously more likely to suffer from health issues of all sorts while also limiting their opportunity to quality healthcare through social and financial barriers. For many sites I will also discuss how Anti-racist actions inspired by the discussion of Kendi’s work “How to be an Anti-Racist” could potentially be employed to bring justice to those that have been let down by Boston’s history.

If someone were to stand on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Boylston Street (less than 600 feet from the emerald Necklace), he would likely simultaneously see hundreds of healthy people spending money on the streets of Boston while ignoring the many people sleeping on the streets dealing with mental illness and drug addiction who have been failed by the healthcare system. As they continue their journey into the back-bay fens section of the emerald necklace they may see the glimmer of hope Olmsted tired offer through his park systems. Olmsted’s view of public health was based on the idea that access public spaces like these provide the mental reprieve from city life that many needs in order to lead a healthy, functional life. Although having public spaces is a major part of promoting public health, it by no means constitutes a complete healthcare system. Public health plans and public health care locations are what is needed, and Boston has not provided equal access to quality care for its citizens.

The history of the discrepancy in access to healthcare in Boston is far more intricate than could ever be described in one tour. However, it is important to acknowledge some major contributors to these discrepancies that can easily be identified. Harvard Medical School lies adjacent to the Emerald necklace near the, and as one walks near the school, they will see the many people who work in the healthcare industry, the majority of which are white, seemingly well-off individuals. This preferential treatment has been in place since the founding of the school when It was explicitly a white and male only school. Although over the past few hundred years there has been social movements to make such distinctions illegal, it no less has stopped the fact that these groups of people are given far more opportunity to such institutions.

In the mid 20th century, during the social movements for the advancement of discriminated populations, a clinic near the emerald necklace was set up: Franklin Lynch Peoples’ Free Health Care Center were put in place specifically to cater to those in need of quality affordable healthcare regardless of race, gender, or sexuality was there any options for those who needed it the most. However, it took many more years of fighting for there to be more options for all people. Even still, many of the affordable options –like those on long island—fail to stand the test of time in providing for the community.

As one engages with this the proposed Emerald Necklace Transect, it is crucial to consider the points made by the Boston Globe’s 2017 Spotlight series on racism in Boston work on healthcare in Boston. “Eleven percent of black Bostonians reported being mistreated by health care professionals because of their race in the city’s health care survey in 2013, compared to 2.5 percent of white residents.” Not only are people with black skin more likely to be mistreated, but they are also less likely to feel welcome and comfortable in the care of majority white group of people who may not be able to empathies with the experiences of a black person in Boston. Engaging with the emerald necklace as a relational landscape by observing the long history of housing discrimination, environmental racism, inequalities in education opportunities, and other systematically discriminatory situations will key the reader into the modern understanding of racial discrimination in Bostonians access to healthcare.