Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, talks of health have never been louder and the push for universal healthcare never greater. Yet, it’s also during a deadly pandemic that we have to come to realize, slowly and painfully, that health is more of an entitlement than a right.
And since our healthcare system continues to fail to provide everyone basic insurance coverage and adequate patient care, it’s easy to take our focus off of the racial and socioeconomic disparities that tend to play the most fundamental role in our health. We forget that oftentimes our zip codes matter way more than our genetic codes.
This shows in the growing “grocery-gaps” in cities across the country, like our own Madison, Wisconsin. A product of gentrification, the lack of nutritious and affordable food in neighborhoods where low-income people of color are concentrated directly leads to staggering rates of chronic disease among residents, according to a report conducted by the nonprofit The Food Trust.
In Madison, what’s known as the Park Street grocery gap has affected south side residents who rely on the local Pick n’ Save for their groceries, according to The Cap Times. When the grocery store was facing permanent closure in 2019 because SSM Health planned to build a new clinic on the site, residents were at risk of losing their only full-service grocery store nearby. Because of this, the community banded together to help raise money for small food centers or bus trips to further stores, as the nearest full-service grocery stores are downtown and a significant portion of residents don’t own vehicles.
While the Park Street Pick n’ Save was never closed, the bigger issue lies in the lack of attention and allocation of funds from the city. Even now, the effects of gentrification are still visible from the moment you enter the store. It’s not a surprise that Madison’s south side is home to majority lower-income Black, Hispanic and Asian residents, yet a majority of the people shopping were white. This begs the question of why the only grocery store within a close vicinity of longtime residents is failing to first serve its community, and whether the reason why it has remained open is due to a shift of white neighbors trickling in. While the continued business of Pick n’ Save is relevant to all of south Madison’s residents, the current circumstances are still not ideal for communities who face the same effects of a broken system and gentrification across the country.
They matter and need to be well served, regardless of whether gentrification determines the sudden appeal for the city funding thriving businesses in their neighborhood.
Essentially, the same individuals who are disadvantaged see the implications in their own health as a result of such disparities. By not having access to quality healthcare and treatment, they are put at even greater risk over something they didn’t have much control over to begin with. Now more than ever, we cannot fail to recognize that there is both a community and societal obligation to help lift the burdens that no one should be forced to face, especially for those silently suffering under our inequitable healthcare system.