Thursday, May 7, 2015

African American Healthcare Disparities Partnership: Frances Shani Parker, Sinai-Grace Hospital, Poets & Writers, Inc.

African American Healthcare Disparities: Poems and Stories About Real People

Healthcare disparities are inequalities that exist when members of certain populations do not benefit from the same health status as other groups.  These disparities could be related to race, ethnicity, socioeconomics, gender, age, sexual orientation, and more. Unfortunately, the statistics on African American healthcare disparities are particularly dismal for several major diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. Disparities impact not only the personal lives of patients, but also their families, communities, and our nation. Many of the diseases are preventable. Generational suffering and repercussions, economic burdens, and major losses of productivity negatively influence all of us on some level.

A hospice volunteer in Detroit nursing homes for many years, I know facts, figures, and numbers can never convey the heartbeats of poems and stories I have written about many of my deceased patients. They represent statistical disparities of older adult African Americans across the country. Sinai Grace Hospital in Detroit, Michigan and Poets & Writers, Inc. in New York joined me in a partnership to make this powerful union between statistics and humanity happen. The result was a reading event held at the hospital during Nurses Week and including hospital staff members and the Metro-Detroit community. As keynote speaker, I wanted to positively inspire hearts and minds to eliminate African American healthcare disparities.
Although the reading featured my deceased hospice patients speaking through me with poems and stories, they were right there with me in spirit on this momentous occasion. I wore my skull necklace in honor of their presence. If they could have spoken to audience members themselves, they would have told them how much they dread the possibility of future generations continuing to be in harm’s way.

Disparities statistics and several literary selections about my former patients were served to the audience as they ate lunch and became nourished with enlightenment about healthcare inequities that are not only medical, but also immoral. These are two examples of former patients whom I introduced to the audience:

1.   Jim
I visited Jim weekly during his final stages of painful cancer. An African American Gandhi in his nineties, he yearned for peace. One day I made a joyous breakthrough when I pretended to be his deceased wife. Carefree and in love, we reminisced about our lives together in old Detroit. In my poem about him, “images from the past recaptured stolen pieces of pleasure from his youth.”

2.   Katherine
Katherine was a stroke survivor left with serious physical disabilities. Through poetry, I told the audience how Katherine and I visited her imaginary and lively Baptist church in Alabama. When Mahalia Jackson’s gospel music overtook Katherine’s spirit, her stiffened hands clapped “with a powerful energy that rose like a resurrected hot flash.”

Throughout the reading of several literary selections accompanied by PowerPoint images and statistics, the attentive audience connected with understanding and empathy. Saving lives was the essence of why we were all there. This rare opportunity to unite healthcare disparities statistics with poems and stories about deceased hospice patients was both needed and well received. I am honored to have shared literary testimonies in praise of their humanity and in the promotion of quality healthcare for everyone. Statistics are real people.

You can read my LinkedIn post and view a video on African American healthcare disparities here.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers. 


  1. Disparities should not be there with anyone or in between anybody regarding medical facilities.

    1. I agree that all disparities should be eliminated. Thank you for sharing.