For more than30 years, Dr. Thaddeus J. Bell has been a leader within the medical community in South Carolina. Bell, a Charleston physician who is founder and CEO of Closing The Gap in Health Care Inc., is dedicated to health education and equality in the medical profession.
Q: Were you the first African-American to attend the Medical University of South Carolina?
… I was probably one of the first 10. The first African-American to graduate from MUSC was Dr. Bernard Davis.…The first African-American to attend the school was a young woman, who ended up only staying for a semester.…
Q: Let’s talk about health care in South Carolina.
Well … it’s a tale of two cities. On the positive side we have an outstanding medical school in Charleston and we have a medical school in Columbia and we also have a new medical school in Greenville. However, in spite of that, South Carolina continues to be one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to health disparities. Health disparities are when one group of people suffers the burden of disease greater than another group of people. The health of the state is reflective of how the state as a whole is doing. We have a major portion of our population frankly, not doing very well, … There are a lot of reasons health disparities exist; from a historical standpoint. There’s racism, that was institutionalized racism, from the people who were delivering the care. And poverty and economics have played a major issue in the disparities. … I think health literacy is a big part of making the health disparities go away. I have spent a tremendous amount of my professional life focused on trying to educate people who will listen and trying to get rid of the myths that African-Americans and underserved people carry with them. The health care of the state leaves a lot to be desired. I was very happy to see the Affordable Health Care Act come into place, because I think it is going to help a lot of people. I’m a little bit disappointed that the governor is not going to accept a lot of the Medicaid money that’s going to come down from the federal government; we have a large population in our state that could benefit from those funds. That’s just very, very unfortunate. We live in a very sedentary state as you know. We’re probably about 47th in the country when it comes to sedentary lifestyles. We are 47th or 48th when it comes to obesity. We lead the country in heart disease and diabetes; in HIV. So we have a lot of issues that we need to deal with. Health literacy is just one of the pieces that can make that better, and I think the Medical University is doing a wonderful job in dealing with this issue; making folks aware of it. I think that unfortunately some people in the medical community don’t believe that health disparities exist. And that’s very unfortunate. But I think as time progresses and we get more African-Americans and women into the health care profession the disparities will eventually go away. But I don’t think we will see that in our lifetime.
Q: If you took whatever you define as the health care problem and you said “We’re going to fix this problem.” How much of it is money and how much of it is something else. And what is that something else?
The disparities are very closely related to the economics of a person and of a state. When people have good jobs and their economics are good, the chances of them getting good health care is going to be better.… If you can get insurance, if you can get affordable health care, then it’s going to make the situation better for everyone. I also think there’s a very close relationship between health care and education. People who are college grads or have higher education clearly tend to have better health care. Poor health care is directly related to poverty. I think that once we begin to appreciate all of those kinds of things, the health care of the state will improve.
More about Dr. Thaddeus J. Bell
Hometown: Columbia; lives in Charleston
Education: B.S. Biology, South Carolina State; M.A., Science Education, Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University); M.D., Medical University of South Carolina
Occupation: Physician, founder and CEO, Closing The Gap in Healthcare Inc., lecturer
Other Notables: Lifetime member, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Founder, Lowcountry Jazz Festival, 1996 South Carolina Physician of the Year (1st African American), Voted one of South Carolina’s Top 100 Athletes of the 20th Century, Helped establish the Family Health Center in Cross, South Carolina
About this series
This is the 10th in a series of interviews for Envision SC, an initiative where some of the state’s brightest thinkers share their perspectives to inspire South Carolina to become world class in technology, education and business. It is sponsored by the College of Charleston with the SC Chamber of Commerce, newspapers, TV stations and other groups. Interviews are being conducted by Charleston businessman Phil Noble.
An interview with Medical University of South Carolina President Ray Greenbergl will appear next on Page A2 in The State newspaper and on thestate.com/envisionsc.
Video: Interview with Dr. Bell