Keith Gambrell fondly remembers his stepfather Gary Fowler, a Detroit bus driver who took pride in his role as the breadwinner for his wife and children.
But as a newly released documentary illustrates, Gambrell’s final memories of his father continue to invoke nothing but pain and disappointment.
In March 2020, both Fowler and Gambrell’s grandfather, Jason Hargrove, died after contracting COVID-19. Gambrell said they died because they could not find a hospital in Detroit that would either test or treat them. He believes it was because of the color of their skin.
“People are dying every day because they’re not being taken seriously,” he said in a documentary released May 1, “The Color of Care. ”
Its focus is to illustrate how Blacks died at a disproportionate rate during the first months of the pandemic – deaths that often could have been prevented.
“If this film changes one’s mind, then it has done its job,” Gambrell said. “My dad and my grandfather died six hours apart. My grandfather went to the hospital March 23, 2020, and my dad began to show symptoms of the virus three days later.”
Dr. Ala Stanford, founder of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, said Gambrell’s story represents one that has been repeated within communities of color far too often. She hopes the documentary will lead to change.
“To have this film come out right now which shows where we are and where we need to go makes it one which everyone needs to see,” she said.
In addition to providing expert advice for the documentary, Dr. Stanford also leads an educational campaign that hopes to both encourage and better equip doctors, nurses and medical professionals to both address and combat systemic racism in the healthcare industry.
The campaign additionally seeks to empower patients who experienced inequities in health care settings which they believe occurred because of their skin color.
“The COVID-19 crisis has exposed gross inequalities in our healthcare system which, if left unaddressed, will again disproportionately impact people of color during the next health emergency,” said James F. Blue III, head of the Smithsonian Channel. “This campaign will work to address these inequalities.”
Stanford said people need to have easier access to information about COVID-19.
“We need to remind people that they need to get vaccinated and that those over the age of 65 should additionally get booster shots,” she said. “This is not 2020 and we don’t need to lose any more lives. Every time there’s an outbreak, those most affected are people who are not vaccinated or are immune-compromised.”
Gambrell recalls the barriers he and his family faced in their futile attempts to secure medical help for his father.
“My dad tried to get into a hospital for three days and they denied him,” he said. “We took him to another hospital three hours later and they sent him home. At Henry Ford Hospital, they stopped him at the door – they wouldn’t let him in. On April 6, my father called and said my grandfather had died. Six hours later, he, too, was dead.”
Yance Ford, an award-winning filmmaker and director of “The Color of Care,” shared his hopes about the film’s potential impact on America’s healthcare industry.
“I hope this film gets people to think about how they treat their patients,” Ford said. “We have the data about health inequities that goes back to 2003. We have known about this for 20 years but we have not done anything. We have to demand and expect that Black and brown patients be treated just like white patients.”