County Study Identifies Health Disparities, Leads to Funding for African American-Focused Clinic

Like many African Americans, Alma Burrell’s father didn’t like going to the doctor, so he avoided treatment for his diabetes. Burrell recalls him saying, “If I'm sick, and I don't feel like my doctor understands me, I'll stay home, or else wait until it gets a lot worse before I go in.” Watching him succumb to the disease inspired Burrell to come out of retirement after only a month to co-direct San Jose’s first clinic geared toward black people.

“I’ve seen too many of my people suffer like this, and I felt like I still have some juice left,” Burrell says.

The San Jose outpost of Roots Community Health Center is scheduled to open May 8 on The Alameda to provide culturally competent care for Santa Clara County’s African-American population. About 200 potential patients have already set up appointments at the clinic, which will open initially for 30 hours a week.

A county-sponsored study in 2015 found that black people in the South Bay have disproportionately higher rates of HIV and AIDS, hypertension, Hepatitis C, diabetes, and cancer, and lower life expectancies than other groups. Inspired to take action, county supervisors worked with the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet to bring Roots, which has been operating in East Oakland for four years, to San Jose.

“What our community said was we need our own health facility, because they didn’t feel public health facilities were serving their needs,” says Walter Wilson, a longtime San Jose community activist and Roots board member.

“At first, to be honest, I said, ‘Is there a lot of need down there? I think of it as a wealthy area,’” says Dr. Noha Aboelata, chief executive officer of the nonprofit clinic. But upon seeing data from the study and hearing about the county’s financial support, Aboelata says she “was pretty moved by that.”

One of the key findings in the study is that health care disparities for black people often stem from unfair treatment and discrimination— factors that are preventable. One of the first ways to counter these biases is to hire African Americans in the community. “When you see people who look like you, when you encounter people who have been through what you’ve been through, that helps some of those barriers fall away,” Aboelata says.

Silicon Valley’s black population is small and shrinking, making up about 50,000 people, or 3 percent of county residents in 2012. That’s about the same size as the population of Gilroy. But African Americans face particular health challenges.

“Generally, as your income and education rate goes up, your health gets better, but it doesn’t happen like that in our community,” says the Rev. Reginald V. Swilley, a founding board member of the San Jose clinic.

The cumulative stress of bias and racism can take a toll on black people’s health. Negative experiences with the medical system compound the problem, the 2015 study found. “You have people who would see doctors who didn’t want to touch them,” Wilson says.

Burrell recalls a particularly awful trip to the doctor when her children were little. “I have two sons. One is chocolate and one is butterscotch, because our kids come in a rainbow of colors,” she says. “This doctor was determined that something was wrong with my son because he was a different color than his brother.” The doctor tested the lighter-skinned son for anemia, even though he’d come to the clinic for a sports injury.

Black patients “want to go to a place where they feel at home, where they feel welcome and people understand them and their culture, and they’re not getting that in San Jose or in the county overall,” Burrell says.

African Americans have experienced centuries of systemic racism and medical exploitation. Examples span from the infamous Tuskegee Institute experiments, where doctors injected black men with syphilis, to the unauthorized use of Henrietta Lacks’ cancer cells for decades of research, to medications that are never tested on black people before gaining FDA approval. These abuses and stories like those experienced by Burrell’s sons can create hesitancy to encounter the health care system.

“If there’s not a trusting relationship between you and your provider, you’re not going to follow their advice,”  Aboelata says. “Then the patient comes back and didn’t take their meds, and the doctor labels them noncompliant.” This could lead to a doctor pulling away from the patient, which only fuels the cycle of mistrust.

Roots aims to break that cycle with “navigators,” or outreach workers who will connect patients with wraparound services beyond medical needs.

“If we say the No. 1 reason our patients are not well is poverty, that means we have to do something about poverty,” Aboelata says.

The county has offered support to Roots to the tune of $350,000, based on the clinic’s willingness to take on “high users of multiple systems,” including the 20 percent of county homeless residents who are black. “You know why they go [to the emergency room] if they break their toe or have a toothache, or get something in their eye? Because the emergency room will treat them,” says Wilson.

The county has an interest in getting those patients to less-costly regular primary care doctors, which Roots will oversee. However, Roots also expects to draw wealthier black professionals to the clinic as well. “I was going to take my Obamacare and transfer it to the community, but now I’ve got new insurance from my wife, so I’ve gotta figure out how I’m going to get in there,” Swilley says.

The clinic won’t be restricted to patients of African descent, so others looking for a change in health care are also welcome to join. “We'll never turn anyone away,” Burrell says. “But the services we offer are African-centered, and some people will be comfortable in that environment.” For Burrell, that means linking patients to a support system. “The focus is always about community. How can we connect you back to your people? You don’t have people? We’ll be your people.”

Silicon Valley’s challenge is the black community is less concentrated than at Roots’ clinic in the East Bay. “What’s great about Oakland is that most people of African descent are geographically in one area, and you can go and find a community of black folks in a particular radius,” Burrell says. “But here, we’re spread all through the county.”

To address the geographic sprawl, the clinic will be located on the heavily used 22 bus line right next to Ujima Adult and Family Services, which will partner with Roots to provide Afrocentric mental health care. Roots will also advertise on billboards, buses and radio while spreading the word at black churches and community events.

Burrell calls the clinic a labor of love.

“When you come to Roots, I want you to feel like you’ve just come home.”


  1. My deepest sympathies to the African-American community, whose members, unlike the rest of us, have been forced to endure medical treatment from doctors and staff who were racially and culturally different from themselves. In a county that would never subject its Caucasian residents to Chinese-American or Indo-American physicians, or its Christian patients to Jews, or its native-born to foreign-born, the question that has to be asked is, “What took so long?”

    The supporting data cited is truly staggering, almost equal to that out of sub-Saharan Africa, which leads the world in hypertension, is home to 70% of the world’s HIV patients, accounts for one in five cases of hepatitis, and has, in the last few decades, seen diabetes double, a development attributed to poor diet and a lack of exercise. A thinking person might wonder if the health issues that plague African-Americans have more to do with their genetic predisposition, behavioral proclivities, and attitudes towards health issues than with how they are treated by others. But then, such a thinking person would be sure to be branded a racist.

    • @Frustrated Finfan Many thinking people have wondered and done research on the genetic predisposition of various races. Genetic research shows that race does not exist. It is a social construction. As for behavioral proclivities and attitudes, research shows that groups that are marginalized react similarly no matter the skin color or location. One would only brand someone a racist if said “thinking person” set aside facts, and scientific research and chose to believe that African Americans are genetically inferior.

      • Belle,
        If “race does not exist” and is merely “a social construction” then what is the point of this clinic that is based on the principle that there ARE differences between the races?

      • Belle,

        By taking refuge behind the politically-correct assertion that race is a social construct you incorrectly assumed yourself safe to deny the indisputable relevance of genetics. So I assume you really are prepared to argue that health-related predispositions do not run in families, and that families do not have origins, which, when traced, eventually merge into a population significantly distinct in genetic makeup and geography. When I pointed out the startling similarities between the health problems of African-Americans and those of present-day Africans, was it your intention to deny that the genes of these populations lack commonality? If that was the case, then please explain the physical similarities of these peoples, or is that also the work of their having been socially marginalized?

        The black skin that originated in Africa (and is still evident in African-Americans hundreds of years removed from the continent) evolved in reaction to the environment. That same environment influenced, by way of the resources available, food preferences and digestive systems; by way of climate, activity levels and cultural traditions; by way of peril, sociopolitical structure and spirituality. Africans who failed to adapt to the demands of the resources, climate, and peril were severely, if not catastrophically, disadvantaged in passing along their genes. Conversely, those best-suited for the environment thrived, as did their well-adapted genes, which eventually came to dominate the genome — the same genome that came over on the slave ships.

        The uniqueness that marks both African-Americans and African peoples is the work of a unique environment along with tens of thousands of years. It is a work that cannot be undone by a few hundred years of separation or a hundred years of nonsense sociology, no more so than can black skin or kinky hair or sickle cell anemia.

        Lastly, thank you for alleging that I suggested that African-Americans are inferior, as with that you revealed your true colors. I didn’t say that and wouldn’t because there are no inferior races (or groups or populations or whatever term suits your agenda) as all races adapted to be superior to their natural environment. Nevertheless, somehow you saw that sentiment in my words. Seeing things that are not there can be a symptom of many things, but wisdom is not one of them.

  2. > Like many African Americans, Alma Burrell’s father didn’t like going to the doctor, so he avoided treatment for his diabetes.

    Well, duh!

    Instead of creating a “clinic geared toward black people”, why not just target “attitude modification” programs to black people to make the like going to the doctor?

    Progressives are experts at “attitude modification.” It’s what they do.

    And “attitude modification” is cheaper and faster than building clinics.

    • If you have diabetes and don’t follow treatment-you suffer and die.

      If you eat greasy, salt infused foods and develop hypertension against a doctor’s recommendations-you suffer and die.

      If you don’t exercise regularly and become over weight-you suffer and die.

      If you ignore established protocols and are infected with HIV-you suffer and die.
      If you develop HIV through a blood transfusion-you have my sincerest sympathies.

      This clinic is yet another tragic waste of taxpayer’s money that promotes racism. The real focus is to create another Non-profit sucking up much needed healthcare dollars for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center to fund the most dubious component of this farce-“wrap-around services.”

      If you choose not to go to seek medical care when you know you need to-suffer and die.

      In the mean time, accept Lord Jesus, repent of your sins, and stay prayed-up because you’re going to die anyway.

      Transfer funding from this racist program to Santa Clara County Medial Center and vote-out the current Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors who support this crap.

      David S. Wall

      • @David S. Wall the current Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors supports the clinic because it takes pressure off of the the overwhelmed Santa Clara County Medical Center. The county needs more than one clinic. There are many clinics that target many cultures. They help society to thrive.

        • > There are many clinics that target many cultures. They help society to thrive.

          Next, you’re going to tell us that the clinics are “vibrant”. Baloney. Psychobabble never fed a hungry child.

          The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors desperately need their own “attitude modification”. They need their attitudes adjusted to accept that they are the government for ALL the people in the county, and they provide county services for ALL the people in the county, not just “boutique” services for white trust fund children and black community organizers.

          • This is a comparatively small fraction of funding that will target a section of the population in need without being exclusive to other groups. No need for outrage.

          • Sjoutsidethebubble,
            You are right, the county is the government for ALL the people. That is why they offer programs to various cultures within the community instead of the one size fits all approach that you are suggesting.

          • Belle, You correctly say, “all the people.” NOT subgroups. Tax money should support the ONE community that we are, not “various cultures within the community.”

            Separate but equal is not equal. This clinic is segregation, which is racism. If people need to go to a separate clinic for their race, then they need to assimilate into the broader culture. What will they be asking for next? Separate drinking fountains? Separate places on the bus? Separate schools? I think we properly dealt with that fifty years ago.

    • @SJOUTSIDETHEBUBBLE the clinic IS a program that “targets attitude modification” for black people. Perhaps you should re-read the article. It offers a sense of support and community which encourages people to seek treatment instead of being afraid of it.

      • > the clinic IS a program that “targets attitude modification” for black people.

        Well, if it’s modifying the attitudes of black people to convince them that they need a “clinic geared toward black people”, it’s doing it wrong. I say, modify their attitudes so that they can health care at any clinic.

        It is really a disservice to black people to indoctrinate them that they can only get their treatment at the tiny number of clinics “geared toward black people.”

        It’s a crazy, nonsensical, exclusionary, idea if the objective is to get black people to “accept” healthcare.

        • Sjoutsidethebubble,
          Rest assured! No where in the article did we read that black people should only get treatment from clinics geared toward black people. The clinic simply emphasizes African culture just as Kaiser emphasizes European culture. You stated that there is a need for a program that targets black people and now we have one. What better way to target black people than to utilize their culture? If you have a better idea on what the program should look like, I suggest you take it to the county and see of you can get funding to start your own clinic.

          • Very interesting, Kaiser, a very German name is “Eurocentric” in spite of the fact that the only time I’ve seen a Euro-like looking doctor in the last 20 years was in the ER and that lady saved my racist Eurobutt twice in that time.

            My regular Dr. is Vietnamese first generation, we some time miss understand each other as I do with the Eurocentric Filipino nurses and the Hispanic receptionist. My Puerto Rican dentist doesn’t seem to mind the color of my mouth or the cash that comes out of my pocket. When I’m bleeding it never occurred to me to go look up a doctor that might might be more Eurocentric and understand my sensitivity about the color or our skin. The blood is red, it needs stopping and cleaning, and closing. We bleed the same!

            If you were running a clinic for people with sickle cell or some other condition unique to people of African descent and few others I could see the county funding such a clinic. It is time to end this racist attitude in this bastion of progressivism, or to point out it’s hypocrisy and cut of public funding of such projects, or stop calling white people racist.

  3. For some reason this artical just smells of reverse racism, it’s been 20 years since my regular doctor and dentist was the same color and sex I am. Yet I still go. Does it bother me…………………..Yes if they just got out of medical school.
    Yes if they are over charging me. Yes if they miss diagnoses something that almost killed.

    I can just imagine the outrage if the county set up a White’s Community Health Center.

    • @EMPTY GUN Whites are the majority in this country so there are already plenty of White Community Health Centers. While your providers may be of a different color and sex, they are still abiding by a Eurocentic culture. The Roots Clinic is appealing African/ black culture which is marginalized. Why does it bother you all to see services that cater to different groups? These are professionals who saw a need in their community and decided to do something about it. I applaud them!

        • “Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustice.”
          – MLK

          • Up next, County Study Identifies Wealth Disparities, Leads to Funding for African American-Focused Bank (mandatory ancestry swab test required and we will and shall discriminate on the basis of race, color, and national origin).

  4. > @EMPTY GUN Whites are the majority in this country so there are already plenty of White Community Health Centers.

    Is there a “White Community Health Center” in Santa Clara County? News to me.

    Jennifer? Josh? Can you look into this? I would especially like to know which local politicians get treated at the Santa Clara County White Community Health Center.

    Also, can you find out how white a person needs to be to use the county’s White Community Health Center?

    Could our recently retired President, Barack Obama, use the White Community Health Center? I understand that he was MORE than fifty percent white.

    What about Rachel Dolezal or Elizabeth Warren? Could they use the white health center even though they disparage “white identity”?

    The community needs answers.

  5. Annoying when comments disappear such as mine posted about 8:30P last night. Unclear if glitch or SJI censoring.

    Disappointing that critical thinking is suspended. Truscheit fails to describe the $350K’s ROI or any quantifiable justification. The clinic may save money or may squander it – we don’t know or if anyone will bother to check. She fails to explain why Hedding & The Alameda merits a clinic when the County’s black enclave lives in East Palo Alto. Or why not use Public Health facilities at nearby Lenzen, Valley Med, or the African American Services Agency. Despite Ms. Burrell’s claims, nothing to indicate if race-based treatment bias is commonplace and discourages medical service consumption. No reason to believe that costs to treat black homeless will be reduced. Homeless neglect self-care regardless of race. Guidestar (charity rating service) fails to give Roots a passing grade.

    More revealing is Ms. Truscheit’s advice on the perfect partner and her lesbian love life in Everyday Feminism and their $300 class for “Healing Toxic Whiteness”.

  6. sjoutsidethebubble,
    We live in a prodominately white/ Eurocentric country so there is no need to title the clinics “White”. In Japan, they do not title the clinics “Japanese”. That would be redundant. However, if one were to open a clinic in Japan geared towards Americans, it would likely be titled an American clinic. Everyone is welcome to recieve treatment and employment at all clinics. However, each clinic emphasizes different cultures so that each group is represented. I do not understand why you have a problem with this. Perhaps you do not like diversity?

  7. MIKE:

    > This is a comparatively small fraction of funding that will target a section of the population in need without being exclusive to other groups.

    > The county has offered support to Roots to the tune of $350,000, . . .

    Will white people be allowed to go to this “”clinic geared toward black people”?

    Why can’t the black people go to the White Community Health Care Center just like everyone else?

    If so, why bother with this ILLEGAL and MALIGNANT tribalist vanity project.

    And if white people CAN’T utilize this “clinic geared toward black people”, it violates the “Brown vs Board of Education” ruling which outlaws “separate but equal”.

    • Mr. Bubble, In your opinion do you think it would be seen as racist situation if non blacks boycotted the “Roots clinic”, as non inclusive or would it be anti-tribalist?

      Would it be appropriate to ask people arriving for treatment what tribe they hail from so as to give the appropriate tribal treatment for the unique and exclusive, separate but equal people that they are?.

    • Bubble,

      You fool! The situation will be solved by having separate entrances, “Blacks only” in the front; and “whites only” around the back. Inside there will be waiting rooms for “Blacks only”, these will be luxuriously furnished with toys for the kids, free wi-fi, air conditioning and cable TV; and in the back will be the waiting room for “whites only”, this will consist of a couple wooden chairs and an oscillating fan set on a stool; that way:

      >”Black patients (can) go to a place where they feel at home, where they feel welcome and people understand them and their culture”<…a culture which, for some, has now become "ship whitey back to Europe".

      Folks, it's no longer about Civil Rights, it's about revenge.

      • This clinic is about the celebration of African heritage and culture. There is no segregation of any kind. You react as if this project is somehow demonizing other cultures by its mere existence.

    • Of course white people will be allowed to go to the Roots Clinic. Black people indeed can go to the “White Community Health Care Center.” But I fail to understand the problem with a culturally specific clinic that is open to the entire community. In fact every clinic is culturally specific to some culture. Do you desire that community clinics cease to exist, or only those that recognize and celebrate minority cultures?

      • > But I fail to understand the problem with a culturally specific clinic that is open to the entire community.

        I fail to understand the problem that a culturally specific clinic is solving. Black people and white people use the same aspirins, correct?

        Or, are you suggesting that the county needs to fund two separate clinics so that one has black band-aids, and one has white band-aids?

        Just use rainbow colored band-aids for everyone. It will make gays feel good, too.

      • Is there a point where you would begin to understand the problem with such clinics, or are you simply a lunatic? What should the county do if a group of mulatto’s demanded a clinic of their own, citing their perception of being unwelcome at either the Roots center or the county hospital? — their demands being followed by similar claims lodged by Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Russian, Polish, and Indian Americans. Is every group welcome to startup cash? Do the L’s deserve a facility separate from the G’s, and the B’s from the T’s? Do the obese deserve services safe from the body-shaming gazes of the trim?

        Face the facts, this is simply another shakedown by a highly-experienced group of parasites who’ve mastered the art of bullying elected officials.

        • Frustrated,
          Can’t speak to all assertions, but do note that Roots’ (hard to locate) IRS 990s indicate most income is from public grants. Unlike many non-profits, no annual report that I’ve found. Even assuming all their clients are indigent, no indication they are enrolling in Medi-Cal, SSI, etc. to shift the economic burden from SCC taxpayers.

          Regardless of the merits of “culturally sensitive” programs, many red flags about their operation. Maybe that’s why Charity Navigator didn’t give them a passing grade.

        • Yes finfan, Alma Burrell aka “Belle” HAS mastered the art of bullying elected officials. She was trained from within. She recently sued her employer, Santa Clara County, on the basis of discrimination. She felt she wasn’t promoted due to her race. So finally she retires. She figures to herself, “Don’t get mad. Get even.” Now she’s exacting her revenge on whitey. She’ll be getting her pension courtesy of us taxpayers even as she draws her salary at the non-profit courtesy of us taxpayers and when she retires from that she’ll be getting distributions from her 401k courtesy of us taxpayers..
          If having an African American clinic is such a good idea that it’s worthy of our tax dollars then why isn’t it a branch of the official County health system? At least that way we wouldn’t be paying double.
          The first new hire this this facility needs to make is a doctor who specializes in removing chips from the shoulders of minorities. It’s a problem of epidemic proportions.

          • > Alma Burrell aka “Belle”

            Alma Burrell is apparently featured in

            Unfortunately, I am unable to report the dish because is fighting with my ad-blocker, and I have instructed my ad-blocker NOT to give in.

            Would someone else be so kind and public spirited as to inform us how generous the taxpayers have been to Alma?

            Thank you. You’re a peach.

          • I’ll be a peach SJOTB, but just this once.
            According to Alma Burrell’s salary in 2014 was $106,379.14.
            She had “Other Pay” of $915.92.
            Her benefits were $35,772.29.
            Total Pay And Benefits for Ms. Alma Burrell Together With Her Resentful Attitude: $143,067.70!!!!!!!!

            I can be a nectarine too if you’d like:


            So officially we taxpayers cough up about 140k every year for Ms. Burrell’s showing up for work and collecting her paycheck. But add on the court costs we’ve had to endure due to her crappy attitude and the price goes much higher.
            Way to go Alma Burrell aka “Belle”. In your short career of “public service” you’ve really managed to learn a lot about biting the hand that feeds you.

  8. I know I mentioned “The White Community Heath Center” first but I just can’t seem to find one of those around here,
    but everyone seems to think there is one. Does the county sponsor one? Is it for shy white ladies that don’t want to be touched by anyone but white women Dr’s?

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