We are pleased to include in our blog series on equity some perspectives offered by the National Health Law Program’s board member, Dr. L.D. Britt, Henry Ford Professor & Edward J. Brickhouse Chairman, Department of Surgery at Eastern Virginia Medical School. A graduate of Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, Dr. Britt has been recognized as one of the nation’s leading doctors, and the first African-American to hold an endowed chair in surgery. Dr. Britt’s published analysis of the racial disparities revealed by the coronavirus in USA Today can be found here.
-Elizabeth G. Taylor, Executive Director
The Unveiling and Magnification of Healthcare Disparities in America
The current national crisis (COVID-19 pandemic) has unveiled and magnified healthcare disparities and inequalities. One of the greatest challenges facing this country has been increasing disparities. There is consistent documentation that such an assessment is not a gestalt. On the contrary, gestalt is not evidence-based. For example, African Americans are effected disproportionately by coronavirus:
33% of the hospitalized are African Americans, although roughly 13% of the US population are African Americans
Roughly 45% of coronavirus deaths in Chicago were African Americans.
This trend is seen in all major cities in America. The question that needs to be definitively answered is——why is the virus killing Black and Latino residents at a higher rate? In New York City, these special populations (Black and Latino) have twice the rate of deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic when compared to the white population.
Potential causes are multiple and multifaceted. Structural and systemic racism must be considered (e.g. environmental, economic, and political factors). Black Americans and Latinos are less likely to live in neighborhoods where there is optimal access to medical facilities and healthy food. In addition, these special populations do not have adequate health insurance coverage. Also, it is well documented that Blacks and Latinos have more co-morbidities, with higher rates of chronic illnesses (e.g. heart and lung diseases, hypertension, and diabetes).
One of the wealthiest nations in history and, undoubtedly, the country with the most advanced technology must definitively address and mitigate the steadily mounting disparities in healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic is clearly a call for action. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the great civil rights activist, said that “… of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” A great nation must be able to protect the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, our legislative bodies have not made this a top priority. The return on investment (ROI) is substantial and must be continually underscored.
(Note: “Black Medical Leaders: Coronavirus magnifies racial inequalities with deadly consequences” – Dr. Selwyn Vickers, Dr. L.D. Britt, et al; USA Today – 4/2020)