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Med school in New Orleans East becomes mayoral topic

5th September 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Susan Buchanan
Contributing Writer

Blacks remain underrepresented among U.S. doctors, even with affirmative action policies that address discrimination. Management consultant Troy Henry, a candidate for New Orleans mayor this fall, believes the city has the resources to turn out more African-American doctors. Blacks make up over 13 percent of the nation’s population, but account for less than six percent of its physicians.

“We have quality science training here at our predominantly Black institutions, like Xavier, which is sending many of its students to med schools,” Henry said last week “Dillard has an excellent nursing program.” Conceivably, these universities could be harnessed to form a med school affiliated with New Orleans East Hospital, which opened in a mostly Black community in 2014.

Xavier student working on a lab project

Xavier student working on a lab project

“But you can’t create a medical school with the flip of a switch,” Henry said. “You’d have to have the hospital’s operators and the universities in agreement, and would need to secure government permits and funding from the state and other sources,” he said. Henry, who announced his candidacy in July, plans to take steps to make that happen if he’s elected. A new med school would create some needed jobs in the East, he said. In the 2010 mayoral race, Henry placed a distant second to Mitch Landrieu.

“Our city is nearly 60 percent African-American but it has few Black doctors,” Henry said. The nation’s handful of predominantly Black medical schools include Howard University in Washington, DC; Meharry in Nashville; Morehouse in Atlanta; and UCLA/Charles Drew in Los Angeles. Henry’s daughter studies medicine at Meharry.

Last week, New Orleans East Hospital and Xavier in Gert Town were silent about the idea of a new med school. “We’re referring any questions about Mr. Henry’s proposal back to his campaign,” Aziza Landrum, community relations manager at New Orleans East Hospital on Read Boulevard, said. “We have no further comment.”

That 80-bed facility opened three years ago at the site of Pendleton Memorial Methodist Hospital, which was shut by Katrina. In 2014, New Orleans-based LCMC Health, a not-for-profit care group, agreed with Orleans Parish Hospital Service District A that it would operate the hospital. The facility has been approved by the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

Last week, officials at Xavier University of Louisiana declined to comment on Henry’s proposal, saying that it’s speculative in nature. The school doesn’t support one mayoral candidate over another.

Xavier plays a prominent role in producing Black doctors and pharmacists. “This university leads the nation in the number of African- American graduates who go on to complete medical school,” Xavier’s communications director Richard Tucker said last week. “And we’re among the nation’s top-four colleges of pharmacy in graduating African Americans with Doctor of Pharmacy or Pharm D degrees.”

Nearly 70 percent of Xavier’s students are African-American. Forty-three percent of them are from metropolitan New Orleans and 53 percent are from Louisiana. A year ago, the university’s fall 2016 enrollment was 2,997, including undergrads and graduate and professional pharmacy students. That was below a peak of 4,100 in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck two weeks into the fall term.

Xavier is heavily invested in sciences. Nearly 85 percent of its 2,280 undergrads major in one or two of the following: biological and applied health sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and mathematical and physical sciences. In addition to its pre-med and pre-dental curricula, Xavier offers a public health major, and it added a major in neuroscience this fall.

Dillard University on Gentilly Boulevard, with over 1,150 mostly African-American students, lists 35 majors for Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees. Since its founding in 1930, Dillard has been involved in the city’s medical care.

A century and a half ago, New Orleans-based Straight Universi-ty — eventually renamed Straight College — opened in 1868 for Black students. Straight was known for its medical training, particularly in the 1870s. The college closed in 1934. Meanwhile, Flint Medical College opened in 1889 to African American students and closed in 1911, after graduating over 115 physicians. In 1916, its buildings on Canal Street became the 50-bed Flint-Goodridge Hospital, with Black and white doctors on staff. In 1930, New Orleans University and Straight College merged to form Dillard University, which went on to own Flint-Goodridge Hospital, including a Louisiana Avenue facility unveiled in 1932. Dillard sold that hospital in 1983, and it never reopened.

Today’s Black medical schools help to reduce racial disparities that are known to exist in health care, Henry said. And the minority doctors that they produce are badly needed in inner cities.

In the fed’s 2016 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report, released this July by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in Mary-land, Blacks were found to have less access to decent health care, versus whites, for about 50 percent of measured activities. His-torically, American access to care has been influenced by race, ethnicity, economic status, location and other factors, the report said.

Meanwhile, affirmative action policies to address discrimination have helped Blacks who want to become doctors. From 2013 to 2016, Black and Hispanic applicants were more likely to be accepted at U.S. med schools than equally qualified Asian American and white students, economics and finance professor Mark Perry at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus said last week. Citing data from the Association of American Medical Colleges or AAMC, he said a Black applicant with average academic credentials was four times more likely to be admitted to a U.S. medical school than an equally-qualified Asian American applicant.

The AAMC maintains a Medical Minority Applicant Registry that lets African-American, Hispanic, American Indian and other underrepresented students place their names in a database of med school hopefuls. The registry makes basic biographies and MCAT scores available to recruiting departments at participating AAMC schools.

Louisiana has six historically black colleges and universities or HBCUs. Xavier and Dillard are private, while Southern University at New Orleans is public. HBCUs, a term coined for the Higher Education Act of 1965, are educational institutions founded in the United States before 1964 for African Americans. Today 101 HBCUs exist nationwide, mainly in the South.

This article originally published in the September 4, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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