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Veteran Nurse Says COVID’s Brutal Disparities Show Why We Need Health Care for All

Forty years into her career, RN Cathy Kennedy believes the poor and people of color will never get fair treatment until we make systemic change.




Illustration by Define Urban.

As emergency rooms and intensive care units began filling and then straining beyond capacity last year, Cathy Kennedy knew what she was seeing. The COVID-19 pandemic had erupted in California, pushing hospitals and medical facilities almost immediately into crisis mode. There weren’t enough health workers, let alone hospital beds, to keep up with the need for care.

But Kennedy, a registered nurse with 41 years of experience, also understood the underlying racial and socioeconomic context of the grim scene that was unfolding — a context that had been decades in the making. Some of the worst COVID cases were occurring in the same marginalized groups — Blacks, Latinos, immigrant workers, the homeless — that have long suffered under a health system that is broken.

“As a person of color, I see this every day,” says Kennedy, who is biracial. “And as a registered nurse, absolutely. We see that those who have the money are able to access health care, no problem. Those who may not have the means — there is a lack of access to health care.”

COVID has infected and killed Latino and Black Californians at rates well above their respective representation in the state’s population. In many cases, Kennedy says, people who’ve been on the outside of the healthcare system for years carried preexisting medical conditions that made their COVID cases worse.

Having risen through the ranks, Kennedy is now co-president of the California Nurses Association, a group dedicated in part to securing health care for all Californians. (Disclosure: The CNA is a financial supporter of this website.) In this episode of Capital & Main’s weeklong podcast series The Crossing, Kennedy explains why such a system is necessary — for the good of the state and its people, particularly those who have fared the worst both during the pandemic and long before COVID-19 exposed the brutal inequities of medical care.

Copyright 2021 Capital & Main

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