CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) -“There’s this history of distrust of this healthcare system”.
Dr. Charles Modlin of the Cleveland Clinic has just come from surgery. He’s still wearing scrubs as he dons a headset microphone and talks into a computer camera.
He’s a busy man but is making time to talk about a subject he’s passionate about racism in healthcare.
“A lot of that emanates back to that Tuskegee syphilis experiment study that was conducted by Health and Human Services.”
Dr. Modlin points to that study as one of the wounds to the Black community that has left scars that exist today.
“They knew they had syphilis, there was a cure for syphilis, and they deliberately did not administer that cure to individuals because they wanted to see what the natural consequences of untreated syphilis would be”.
The experiment went on for forty years, from 1932 to 1972. Black men were told only that they were receiving free healthcare. Many infected their partners, lived tortured lives, and died painful deaths.
Knowledge of the experiment wasn’t widespread until the mid-‘70s. Since then, Dr. Modlin says stories have been passed on, and the Black community has ‘intergenerational memory’ of such trauma.
Dr. Modlin founded the Cleveland Clinic Minority Men’s Health Fair. He says amidst the pandemic, it’s especially important for communities of color to establish trusting relationships with healthcare providers.
It won’t be easy.
“Hough is a special place. Extremely diverse, though majority African American. A lot of potential here”. Ward Seven Councilman Basheer Jones gazes across League Park, reflecting on his community.
“There’s a serious skepticism in this community, and it’s validated by what has happened in history. Growing up, I never--we never--trusted doctors or hospitals. We just never trusted them”.
Times have changed. Councilman Jones is now working with Dr. Modlin to bridge the divide and establish relationships to increase access and care for residents of Hough.
“We all have to at some point come to the table, the collective table and say, as an institution, I know what has happened in the past, but this is what we’re going to do presently and the future, and we want you to be on board and with us every step of the way. It also takes the community to say, we’re going to give you a chance, and that’s tough”.
Jones wants institutions to invest in the community and is wary of gentrification.
“We have a school right around the corner, MLK high school that we can turn into a health career school, that we can begin to prepare these young people to become the future doctors this community needs. The institution not only needs to make up for the past but also invest in the future”.