Two Americas; Two MD Andersons

Two Americas; Two MD
Andersons

By

Leonard Zwelling

         The report from the Department of Justice about the police
department in Ferguson, Missouri makes clear what has got to be the worst kept
secret in the western world. The United States of America is two countries—one
white, one non-white.

         Black Americans don’t call the police when trouble erupts
for fear they will be the victims of the responding white officers as they are
often the victims of crime itself. Black American families have to have
discussions with their children about how to behave if stopped by the police,
particularly with sons, so as to avoid the young men being beaten up or worse.
White Americans don’t have to have this talk with their sons. Not only are
Black Americans disproportionately stopped by police, arrested by police, and
fined by police, they are disproportionately NOT the police.

I
don’t believe for a minute that the findings in Ferguson are unique. We are a
nation at war with itself and its principles of equal opportunity and providing
a welcoming home for new immigrants. What the heck is going on?

         First, we have to accept this bitter truth about being a
nation divided. Then we have to work to fix it by having leaders who speak the
truth themselves and advocate implementable ways to alter that truth on the
ground for those victimized by this prejudice. This applies to educational
opportunities, affordable, quality health care access, and personal and public
safety. None of these is the case today. And that includes in Houston!

         As the city prepares for a new mayor, these issues should be
at the top of the list of those that all candidates must address. How does
Houston correct its huge inequity in health care access, educational quality
and policing that breaks along racial, ethnic and citizenship status lines?

         What does this have to do with MD Anderson? Everything.

         Currently, MD Anderson is run entirely by white males,
several with great power, but who are not physicians. MD Anderson is an
establishment built by physicians for patients. It is no longer that way. It is
a place run by a basic researcher who knows nothing about clinical medicine as
is indicated by his naïve pronouncements concerning the road to eradicating
cancer with “curative” intent. Patients are seen as “ATMs” as one surgeon noted
during a town hall and the dollars are shifted from the clinics to the labs at
the discretion of very few. No major decision maker has significant patient
care responsibilities any longer, and only one ever did.

I
have no idea whether or not they have ever been patients. As someone who has
been a medical oncologist (yes, it was a while ago but it used to be my daily
activity), a lab jockey (ditto), a physician administrator (ditto, ditto) and a
patient (way too often), I can assure you that you can understand the former roles
better after having been in the latter.

         The status of the faculty at Anderson is pretty much that of
Black Americans in Ferguson. They are playing by a different set of rules than
those in power, the all white and all male executives, so-called “pale, male
and stale.”

         Unfortunately for the faculty, the Department of Justice is
unlikely to hear their calls for equity and shared governance any more than the
white male powers in Austin have.

         There’s a new sheriff at the Department of Justice and maybe
she can get some traction where Mr. Holder could not given the antipathy
between the past Attorney General and the Congress. There is hope that the
troubles in Ferguson, like those in the Deep South fifty years ago, can lead to
legislative actions and discipline that lessens the sting of racial prejudice
by police in America.

         Here’s to hoping the new Chancellor in Austin will also heed
the pleas of the Anderson faculty and once and for all state that he is 100%
behind Dr. DePinho so those faculty members who find the current administration
intolerable can know there will be no changes and it is time to leave or the
Chancellor will finally end this nonsense that he can blame on his predecessors
and find some new leadership talent, preferably a real physician, maybe even a
Black or Hispanic woman, who can return the balance between the Anderson
Presidency and the faculty that used to be a given at Anderson and has been
wrecked beyond recognition over the past three years.

         We can hope, right?   

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