Dallas community health center Foremost Family Health Centers (FFHC) is producing a documentary about healthcare disparities exposed by COVID-19. The film, A Deficit of Virtue: Healthcare In America, focuses on the differential impacts of the pandemic on Black communities.
According to a study led by Yale researchers, Black Americans are 3.5 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than White Americans, and the film explores the causes of this disparity, including the historical inequities in medical care and why Black populations are more suspicious of vaccines. It features interviews from leaders in the Dallas community, including a church pastor, a state representative, and local doctors. Produced by Lindell Singleton, the documentary will come out this fall.
Joyce Tapley, CEO of FFHC, says she hopes the documentary sparks a conversation about solutions and promotes awareness of healthcare issues. “I’m hoping that we can reach people who will understand the importance of primary healthcare, going to your doctor on a regular basis, and if you don’t have one, to get one,” she says. “My mission is to get to the vulnerable populations and provide world-class quality healthcare.”
Tapley says her interest in addressing healthcare inequities was sparked when her father, a retired veteran, was denied access to healthcare despite his heart issues. “I had to claw tooth and nail and have my father expand on his issues and say some things that would trigger the provider to run the test,” Tapley says. “But it took my dad having to go through my coaching to go through multiple providers and explaining all of what was going on to him before he had the test.”
Once the hospital finally ran the tests, they found out that he had four arteries blocked and had quadruple bypass surgery. “If this happens to a black man who is a decorated veteran, what happens to the regular everyday folks?” Tapley says.
FFHC provides primary care services in under-served communities and has two locations. Tapley says she wants to expand the health center to four more areas. The health center expands access to healthcare services through several measures. The staff conduct community surveys and need assessments to get feedback and determine what services people in the area need.
As the CEO of FFHC, Tapley reports to a community board of directors, where 51 percent of the board are patients of the center. “When there are issues that come up like how much we charge and sliding fee discounts, our patients provide feedback on what they want to see in terms of access, services, and fees,” she says.
Environmental factors in marginalized communities contribute to health issues. “There are areas where people live, and there are not enough grocery stores in their area for them to be able to access healthy foods, healthy fruits and vegetables, organic foods, good meat and produce,” Tapley says. “Those are all issues that affect a person’s lifestyle and their health.”
Tapley says the pandemic highlighted the inequities in the healthcare system, with marginalized communities, including Hispanic and Black populations lacking access to providers. In August 2020, about 40 percent of Black patients reported not being able to receive one or more types of care in the last two months for reasons related to the pandemic, according to a survey by the CDC.
“It’s shown that the United States, as wealthy as it is, can do a lot better,” Tapley says. “We need to reach out and care for those who don’t have access and don’t have the funds. We need more community-based health centers.”