HL Charleston Sept/Oct 2023

66 | HealthLinksSC.com CHARLESTON COUNTY MEDICAL SOCIETY AS CLEAR AS A BELL By Theresa Stratford You might recognize Dr. Thaddeus John Bell from local TV commercials promoting the COVID vaccine for Black people. Or maybe you saw him recently speaking to local news anchors about health disparities among the Black population. HealthLinks highlighted Dr. Bell’s professional trajectory pre-pandemic, in early 2020, and a lot has changed since then. A primary care physician in North Charleston, Dr. Bell has dedicated his life to solving the health disparities in the Black population. He was one of the first African Americans to work for the National Park Service – he was stationed at Yosemite – and later he was the first African American to teach at Gaffney High School. He also was one of the first Blacks to be accepted to the College of Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina in 1972. It was in medical school that Dr. Bell started to notice the health disparities among Black people, and he discovered that this situation was related to racism, health literacy and poverty. What motivated him even more to become a doctor was the realization that outcomes for Black patients usually were better when they were treated by Black doctors. Dr. Bell started the nonprofit Closing the Gap in Health Care in 2005 to help decrease health disparities and enhance health literacy in minority communities. Since then, he has appeared on radio shows, presented “barbershop talks” at churches all over South Carolina and created hundreds of digital newsletters with health-related themes. He was recognized by the National Medical Association in 2013 as a distinguished physician and received a lifetime achievement award from the Charleston County Medical Society. He also offers a scholarship for Black health professional students at MUSC. Despite all this success, Dr. Bell does not see his mission receding anytime soon. He noted that the most dangerous threats to health among Black people are heart disease, cancer, HIV, kidney disease, mental health issues and social issues. Unfortunately, once the number of COVID-related deaths began to rise in mid-2020, Dr. Bell noticed that Black people were being disproportionally affected by the pandemic. He attributed the higher percentage of cases among Blacks, especially from the Omicron variant, to lower vaccination rates, less access to care than patients of other ethnicities and a lack of information about how COVID spreads and how people who contract the virus should take care of themselves. “The pandemic uncovered some racism among the medical community against Blacks,” Dr. Bell said. “Closing the Gap had to really get to work and build those relationships with the Black community. There was a high level of distrust toward the medical community and the government.” Dr. Thaddeus John Bell