Sunday June 20th, 2021 7:06PM

During pandemic, Black families put trust in Black doctors

By The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Dr. Janice Bacon was exactly the person Kay McField hoped to talk to when she found herself spending most of her days in bed, feeling too depressed to get up as the coronavirus pandemic threatened those around her.

As she watched those closest to her test positive for the virus — a goddaughter and her uncle, whom she cares for, among them — McField said she was terrified that she or her daughter, who both suffer from autoimmune diseases, would fall ill. When she wasn't in bed, the 51-year-old single mother was cleaning her house compulsively.

“It was just this constant panic," she said, her arms pressed to her chest. “I wanted to talk to someone I knew was going to listen, who I could trust.”

A Black primary care physician practicing in Mississippi for nearly four decades, Bacon works at an all-African American-run trio of community health centers in Hinds County, where the population is overwhelmingly Black — and where the most coronavirus cases have been reported in the state.

Most of the families that Bacon and the more than 50 other doctors, nurses and social workers serve are African American, low-income and living with health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and asthma that are more common among Black Americans. Even before the coronavirus, many were dealing with depression and anxiety, Bacon said.

During the pandemic, those problems have been exacerbated. Many clinic patients are essential workers expected to work in-person even as coronavirus cases have skyrocketed in Mississippi. While testing is free for community health center patients, delays are a major issue, Bacon said, with some families waiting up to two weeks for results.

Bacon said she has seen people scrape together $187 to pay for a rapid test at other clinics that don't accept Medicaid, in hopes of returning to work faster and not losing their jobs.

"There’s this feeling of, ’I just can’t handle it all,'” Bacon said. “We are seeing serious mental health consequences.”

Meanwhile, families are struggling to find child care and put food on the table. Two of the largest school districts in the area decided to start virtually, creating more barriers for families that don't have internet access, or if they do, don't know how to use devices for online learning or can't afford them.

Research suggests Black patients have better outcomes when treated by Black doctors and nurses. Yet, only 5% of doctors nationwide are Black, and only 2% are Black women, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The Central Mississippi Health Services clinic where Bacon works is on the campus of Tougaloo College, a historically Black institution that was a gathering place for civil rights activists in the 1960s. As part of the national network of community health centers, it receives federal funding to serve communities designated as medically under-served areas, with fees adjusted based on ability to pay.

Over generations, Bacon has built trust in a community generally skeptical of the health care system and made her Black patients feel they have a safe place to go for medical care.

“It’s meaningful to be taken care of by someone who looks like you, who understands you,” McField said. “Other doctors go into the exam room, and they don’t ask your name. And me, when I go there and be treated that way, I’m not going back no more.”

Raised 90 miles from Jackson in Natchez, Mississippi, Bacon suffered from severe asthma. Her pediatrician would treat her at his house when she would have attacks, even in the middle of the night. That inspired her to become a community doctor.

In her office, Bacon has a portrait of Michelle and Barack Obama on the wall, and photos of her patients on a bulletin board. McField’s daughter Ella’s high school graduation photo is among them. Ella, who is starting college this fall, says she has wanted to be a doctor or a nurse since she was little because of Bacon.

Bacon has cared for McField's family for generations. She was the doctor for McField’s mother and her 10 siblings, and now she looks after their children. McField said her brother drove three hours from Memphis so his children could be seen by Bacon.

When she has gone elsewhere for medical care, McField said, she has been talked down to, misdiagnosed or dismissed by doctors. Bacon said there is still a lot of implicit bias in the health care system, and she has seen how it hurts her patients.

When McField opened up to Bacon about her depression during the pandemic, the doctor introduced her to a social worker who helped her find coping strategies — writing in a journal, taking a break from watching the news and praying. She said she's doing a lot better.

Clinic staff members say they see their role as more than treating their patients’ physical health. They work with food banks, churches and other social services to make sure people have access to food and clean drinking water while in isolation, as well as transportation when they can venture out again.

“They can get your high blood pressure medication refilled, and then come down the hallway and talk about why it was up 20 points this week,” said social worker Chinnika Crisler. “Maybe it’s because the unemployment stimulus just ended, and 'I really don’t know how to pay my rent next month, so now I’m not sleeping.”'

The pandemic has made running some of the center's normal programming challenging. Nutrition sessions for preteens and their parents at risk for obesity were halted in person. Respite care for parents of children with significant health conditions — something Bacon knows is desperately needed right now — has been on pause until providers find a safe way to visit patients' homes.

But there is still much to do. On one recent day, Crisler was helping a single mother of three apply for benefits through the Family and Medical Leave Act because she wasn't able to balance working and taking care of her three kids at home by herself.

Clinician and social worker Lisa Williams said that although the pandemic has made a lot of the problems that patients deal with worse, they aren't anything new.

“People have been struggling for a long, long time," she said.


Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Health, AP Business, AP Business - Economy
© Copyright 2021
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
WikiLeaks' Assange in UK court to fight US extradition bid
A British judge has rejected a request by lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to ignore allegations against him in a U_S_ indictment that the defense says was sprung on it “out of the blue.”
9:07AM ( 1 minute ago )
Almost 300 Rohingya found on beach in Indonesia’s Aceh
Almost 300 Rohingya Muslims have been found on a beach in Indonesia’s Aceh province after spending months at sea
8:58AM ( 10 minutes ago )
Greece to boost military amid tension with neighbor Turkey
A government spokesman says Greece will be bolstering its military with new armament programs, a boost to military personnel and the development of the country’s defense industry
8:57AM ( 11 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
The Latest: Pakistan to start opening schools as cases fall
Education officials in Pakistan say authorities will start reopening schools from Sept. 15 amid a steady decline in coronavirus deaths and infections
6:14AM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: Australia OKs funding for two potential vaccines
Australia announced on Monday it had struck supply and production agreements with pharmaceutical companies worth 1.7 billion Australian dollar ($1.2 billion) over two potential COVID-19 vaccines
10:31PM ( 10 hours ago )
The Latest: South Korea sees drop in daily virus cases
South Korea has added 119 more cases of the coronavirus, its lowest daily jump in more than three weeks amid a downward trend in new cases
9:44PM ( 11 hours ago )
AP Health
Merkel won't rule out halting pipeline over Navalny
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office has indicated that she might be willing to rethink the fate of a German-Russian gas pipeline project over the Navalny case
7:15AM ( 1 hour ago )
Global markets mixed after Wall Street slides
Global stock markets are mixed after Wall Street turned in its biggest weekly decline in more than two months
5:33AM ( 3 hours ago )
China's export growth quickens in August, imports edge lower
China’s export growth accelerated in August while imports edged lower as the world’s second-largest economy extended its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic
5:06AM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Business
India becomes 2nd worst-hit country, economic pain is urgent
India has crossed the coronavirus tally of Brazil with 4.2 million cases
12:56AM ( 8 hours ago )
Brexit negotiator says UK unafraid to walk away without deal
Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator is talking tough ahead of a crucial round of post-Brexit trade talks
10:27AM ( 22 hours ago )
Virus deaths surpass 1,000 as Israel mulls new restrictions
The coronavirus death toll in Israel has surged past 1,000, as the government mulls steps to impose new restrictions to quell the rapid spread
6:44AM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Economy
Almost 300 Rohingya found on beach in Indonesia’s Aceh
Almost 300 Rohingya Muslims have been found on a beach in Indonesia’s Aceh province after spending months at sea
8:58AM ( 10 minutes ago )
Belarus activists go missing, colleagues fear detention
A leading opposition activist and two other members of an opposition council in Belarus have gone missing
8:54AM ( 14 minutes ago )
Bold hopes for virus antibody tests still unfulfilled
Coronavirus tests touted by President Donald Trump and his top officials to help reopen the economy are widely available, but predictions for their usefulness haven't panned out
8:50AM ( 18 minutes ago )
In pandemic, Nigerian teacher can 'teach the whole world'
A teacher from a Lagos public school is helping students across the country, and internationally, learn math virtually during coronavirus restrictions that have prevented most children from returning to class in Nigeria
8:35AM ( 33 minutes ago )
Hopes fading for coronavirus deal as Congress returns
Hopes are dimming for another coronavirus relief bill from Washington as Congress returns to session
8:26AM ( 42 minutes ago )