A year into this COVID-19 pandemic in the Seattle area, it becomes clearer to me that we live in a deeply unjust society and have a dysfunctional and unethical healthcare system. Of course, many people knew this to begin with, but the pandemic has laid bare—and continues to reveal—the inequities built into our healthcare system. Besides the now well-documented disproportional toll of the pandemic (health, economic, social, and cultural) on communities of color and people from lower socio-economic status, comes the news this week of local hospitals offering ‘invitation only’ COVID-19 vaccination clinics for wealthy (mainly white) donors. These are for-profit hospital systems as well as ostensibly religious (Catholic in this case), not-for-profit hospital systems like Providence. Interestingly, our public hospitals do not have any vaccine to give the public. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has urged the Washington State Department of Health to put a stop to this unfair practice. We knew that there would be people who would ‘jump the line’ in the rough and ready rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, but most people erred on the side of trust in our hospitals to be ethical in their role in this vast effort.
Already being cynical about the US healthcare system, this adds to my cynicism and desire for a more just, cost-efficient, and effective public option for health care. And clearly, our public health system is a shambles, not only with its continued underfunding, but also with people doing heroic work during the pandemic and getting death threats because of it. What will it take to fix these problems?
On a personal note, although eligible now (and for the past month) to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, I have managed to sign up on a waitlist managed by the King County Medical Society which promises to contact me if and when any open vaccination slots become available to me. I am not holding my (double-masked) breath. And being a longtime patient of Providence—Swedish medical system and knowing the history of Providence in the Seattle area (the Sisters of Charity of Providence ran the King County Poor Farm and Hospital which split off to become Harborview Medical Center), I keep asking myself, “What would Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart have to say to the Providence administrators and board members who gave the vaccine to rich donors ahead of the elderly and the sick?”