By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Insensitivity toward Black patients, training future
physicians about racial sensitivity and the history of racial biases in medicine, were among the issues voiced during EVMS’s two town hall meetings held June 17.
The events were the offspring of the fallout from images of one individual in blackface and another in a KKK outfit on the personal page of Gov. Ralph Northam when he was a senior at EVMS in 1984.
The two public meetings were organized and hosted hours apart by the eight-member Eastern Virginia Medical School Community Advisory Board, (CAB) at the First Presbyterian Church on Colonial Avenue on the western side of the city and the Kroc Center on Ballentine in the eastern section of the city.
The Governor has said he was not in the controversial photo and has refused to resign despite calls from Democratic and Republican lawmakers and Black civic leaders.
EVMS launched a two-pronged internal and external investigation of how the images were published in the yearbook.
One involved hiring the McGuire Woods Law firm to investigate how the images got into the yearbook. That probe was inconclusive.
The other was the appointment of the racially diverse panel of civic leaders and professionals, tasked with conducting a comprehensive assessment of the EVMS culture around diversity, equity and inclusion.
The two town halls were designed to allow input from the community to provide examples of how the community views EVMS.
About 30 people attended the evening town hall meeting at the Kroc Center, including members of the CAB and EVMS P.R. Staff.
It was hosted by the panel’s chair, Gilbert Bland, businessman and CEO of the Urban League of Hampton Roads (ULHR).
Dr. Ed Ayers, president emeritus of the University of Richmond, fielded the questions “about the personal experiences with EVMS” from the audience.
The morning meeting at First Presbyterian Church had about the same number of attendees and followed the same format as that at the Kroc Center.
Dr. Ayers noted the panel was disconnected from EVMS’s more critical internal investigation and could not respond to issues related to the Northam yearbook investigation.
He said at the onset that a survey to grasp the views of the community and ideas will be conducted. Its findings will be included in an overall report to be released by October.
Initially, the CAB had been tasked with a more in-depth look at how the images landed in the 1984 yearbook. But it has been determined that several the members of the panel had either donated to Northam’s campaigns or were appointed to some government post. Bland is on the Governor’s Census Count Commission, to assure a viable head of the state’s population next year.
The first question at the Kroc Center came from a Social Worker named Karen, who moved from Portsmouth to Norfolk a decade ago and sought medical care at the EVMS Outpatient Clinic.
She said she knew it was a teaching school and heard about the racial “inequities” at the facility by others. She said that she was both optimistic and had her doubts.
“My service was not good at all,” she said. “My doctors would not listen to me. I was just being diagnosed with high blood pressure. I was prescribed various medicines. But they did not listen to me.”
She said she did complain to the board and did get a call from a board member, but the disrespect she felt toward her did not stop. She complained about the doctor’s ignoring her as an African-American woman and finally, she left the clinic.
She said other Blacks who were patients told her similar stories about “them not listening. But they may be intimidated and not speak up or know they could complain to the board.”
Nicole Dobson, a medical professional in the area, said that she had difficulty referring her patients to various clinics at EVMS, including the psychiatric unit.
She said her patients registered a lack of respect from those who did get referrals to various EVMS clinics.
She noted that although EVMS was a teaching hospital, practitioners should be taught to give “utmost respect” to the patients which is important.
Bruce Williams, who runs a marketing firm in Virginia Beach, said when he migrated to Hampton Roads, working for Cox Communications, he was diagnosed with blood pressure by an EVMS physician.
He said despite allegations of racial bias, his experiences with the institution were relatively uncomplicated.
Williams is also a leader with the Hampton Roads Committee of 200+ Men and said the organization has worked with EVMS on various projects, including youths aspiring to the medical field.
Peninsula resident Michael Bullock, leader of
African Minded United, a cultural education group, asked what is EVMS doing to educate students about historic racial biases exemplified by the Tuskegee Syphilis
experiment and James Marion Sims, the father of modern gynecology who used Black women as guinea pigs to develop techniques used today.
Mekbib Gemeda, the EVMS Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, explained that racial sensitivity, compassion, and diversity are being “integrated” into the curriculum for students.
The topic of racial insensitivity was also an item at the earlier meeting at First Presbyterian where City Councilwoman Mamie Johnson, Ward 3, and School Board member Rodney Jordan were in attendance. Both spoke to the need for EVMS medical services to be more visible in the African-American communities.
Johnson spoke to the need for EVMS to make an impact in areas of the city away from its physical location in a middle class neighborhood. She suggested opening medical satellite centers within the community she serves which is predominately Black.
“Eastside and Westside, it is real,” she said. “What is the plan (to address socio-economic disparity as regards health issues) and how do we get the plan in action?”
Addressing the evening group was Diane Creekmore, a member of Sickle Cell Families and Peers which advocates for people with Sickle Cell Disease, most of whom are African-Americans. She said two of her children are treated at the EVMS Sickle Outpatient Clinic for the disease.
Creekmore said her group has discovered that EVMS students are not being educated about the racial dynamics of the disease.
“How can you treat someone if you are not learning what the disease entails,” she asked. “We would like to see first year medical students get lectures and comprehensive education about Sickle Cell because when they go to CHKD or Sentara…they will encounter African-Americans…this disease.”
Denise Fields, the CEO of Plura in Norfolk, also spoke in the evening. She wanted to address the “Business Scorecard” of the school’s culture. She wanted to know what EVMS is doing to help minority firms to compete for “prime” and not “sub prime” contracts within the EVMS procurement system which supplies goods and services.
Before that query, Dr. Ayers, reacting to Creekmore’s statement, noted that despite questions about racial diversity, with the school being founded in 1973, it did not have the direct link to slavery or Jim Crow, as do other older medical schools.
Ayers’ assertion brought a comment from Oronde Andrews, an educator at Booker T. Washington High School. Andrews recalled his trip to UVA to return his son to campus two years ago on the day white supremacists paraded through the streets of the school and city of Charlottesville.
As he was coming to the June 17 town hall meeting that very day, he said he saw two huge Confederate flags flying high outside of Charlottesville and near Richmond, indicating the state’s racial legacy has not passed on.
Born in 1973, he noted that although EVMS may have avoided enacting the Jim Crow policies of the past, school officials have not put into place anti-racist policies to address the historic racist legacy of Virginia.
…see EVMS, page 7A