Asked about the news she had been selected to receive The American of St. Louis2022 Lifetime Achiever in Healthcare Award, Vetta L. Sanders Thompson said she was “definitely honored but overwhelmed”.
“I thought they could have picked someone more deserving,” Sanders Thompson said, adding, “Hopefully by the time I’m done I feel like I really deserved it.”
Sanders Thompson’s resume indeed highlights a lifetime of stellar accomplishments. Recently she was re-elected to the board of the Missouri Foundation for Health and was also named vice president. Sanders Thompson is the E. Desmond Lee Professor and Associate Dean of Race and Ethnic Studies at the Brown School at the University of Washington.
She is a graduate clinical psychologist and a renowned researcher in the areas of racial identity, experiences of discrimination and is an associate member of the Siteman Cancer Center where she works to eliminate cancer disparities.
Sanders Thompson’s research focuses on the health and well-being of various communities, particularly the local African-American population. His stated personal goal is to “empower members of the community to improve their health and well-being through education and opportunities for action.”
the the coronavirus pandemic has given Sanders Thompson the opportunities to use her skills, passions, and abilities to engage and inspire those in her profession, as well as to address racial inequities and health disparities.
“COVID has amplified the issues that I have been talking about for a very long time,” Sanders said Thompson. “It exposed the inequalities in all aspects of our lives that are important to our well-being and our ability to live a good life and enjoy our families.”
Some of these inequalities are linked to poverty and wealth, she said.
“Let’s start with who was able to stay home and who had to go to the workplace and potentially be exposed to the virus,” she added. “Wealthier people have been able to work from home, be socially distant in a comfortable way. While people who worked by the hour and received some of the lowest wages had to come and were exposed again and again. Then they had to go home to their families where they might not be able to socially distance and protect themselves from the virus. So you’re talking about people in the most vulnerable areas of our communities. These are the workers and their families.
The pandemic has also revealed the lack of infrastructure in the medical system, Sanders Thompson pointed out. “It took time to develop the communication strategies to help people understand the virus, its emergence and how to protect themselves and their families. And then it took a while to get the resources to the communities.
Overall, however, Sanders Thompson, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, said health professionals in St. Louis have risen to the challenge of serving marginalized communities, whether they are African American or immigrant communities in the area.
She is also co-director of the Institute of Public Health Center for Community Health, Partnership and Research which provides information and resources to health care providers, elected officials and the general public.
“I had the good fortune to work with a establishment which worked with governments to help them better understand infection and positivity rates and understand the social factors that influenced these statistics. I have to say they [public health officials] did a good job of getting resources, testing sites and vaccination campaigns into the community which included North County. It was slow but, as we all know, when you’re doing everything from scratch, it’s going to be slow.
As someone who is dedicated to empowering people to take charge of and improve their own health and well-being, fighting misinformation about COVID has proven difficult for Sanders Thompson. She took a deep breath before broaching the subject.
“It’s complicated and it makes me angry, but it will only get you so far,” she said. “I understand how easily misinformation is spread. I understand how community members can be easily swayed by this…it matches the narratives that exist anyway. The challenge is to counter these narratives.
“Fortunately, I work with a lot of different people, and we’ve used outlets where people have a voice and can be heard. We’ve held Zoom meetings and webinars and had researchers explain the virus, masking, social distancing and working with people to help them understand what they can do to protect their physical and mental health We rewrote complex documents that were online and put them into simpler language and shared all of this with churches and social and community organizations that people trust.
Sanders Thompsonbelieves that the pandemic has opened the eyes of members of the medical profession to long-standing prejudices and racial inequalities. Lately, she says, she and her colleagues have been receiving many requests to share their knowledge and expertise with medical students.
“I have received more requests for training for medical students, residents and fellows in this area than ever before,” she said. “They’re starting to build that into the curriculum, but it takes time to train enough people and make a difference, so I’m hoping to keep that going.”
She cautions that physicians should not be singled out for increased diversity or sensitivity training. Everyone, including nurses, paramedics, paramedics and hospital administrators, needs to rethink America’s “healthcare structure,” she said.
The health care system is “driven by high incomes, high insurance levels…that’s where you attract patients who have the money to operate and hire the kinds of clinical services and research that people need. We do not incentivize care and service to the poor and underserved. At some point, we have to think about changing the structure of what we encourage. »
Sanders Thompson did not speak of his accomplishments in the singular vernacular. She constantly used words like “we” or “us” to emphasize that her accomplishments were the result of others in her field. The 2022 winner emphasized that she is sharing her award with colleagues who, like her, work tirelessly to meet the needs of the underserved.
“I don’t want to take credit for anything because it’s definitely a group effort.”
Tickets for the 22nd Annual Honoring Healthcare Excellence Luncheon on Thursday, April 14 at the Frontenac Hilton are $800 per table of 8 for VIP/Corporate seating or $100 each, and $75 each or $600 per table of 8 for general seats. To order tickets, call 314-533-8000 or visit www.stlamerican.com.
Sylvester Brown Jr. is the first Diaconess Fellow of American St. Louis.