Minority Health Month: Pandemic Brings Injustices and Inequities of the Health Care System to the Forefront.

April is National Minority Health Month. this year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH) and its partners have been focused on the continued importance of COVID-19 vaccination, including boosters, as one of the strongest tools we can use to protect communities from COVID-19, which has disproportionately affected communities of color. CDC data show that some racial and ethnic minority groups — particularly Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, and American Indian or Alaska Native people are at increased risk of getting sick, having more severe illness, and dying from COVID-19. 

For the past two years, almost everyone has experienced stress, hardship, or has otherwise been impacted by COVID-19. Douglas County alone had had over 26,000 cases. However, the pandemic has also highlighted social and racial inequities in health care that have led to differences in access and outcomes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define health equity as all members of society enjoying a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. We have learned that healthy equity is not yet a reality, as COVID-19 has unequally affected racial and ethnic minority groups, making them more at risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.

Inequities and social determinants of health that put minority group as increased risk include health care access and use, discrimination, occupation, education, income gaps, and housing. We know that chronic stress is physically harmful. Toxic stress literally damages one’s DNA. Those who live in a constant state of stress caused by racism and discrimination are at high risk for poor health outcomes even if they are resource rich. In these minority groups, obtaining a high level of education and income, safe housing and access to health care are not necessarily protective against poor health outcomes. 

These factors are associated with an increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths amongst minority populations. In particular, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American patients are at a higher risk of intensive care unit admission because of COVID-19 than White patients. Prior to COVID, those inequities also led to higher rates of certain medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension that put patients at higher risk of complications. Historical and cultural racism and discrimination also contribute to the mistrust of the health care system. This leads to mistrust of vaccines, health care providers, and institutions that make guidelines for the use of vaccines and COVID mitigation strategies. 

The injustices and inequities of the health care system were brought to the forefront by the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly there is a need to address social determinants of health and racial/ethnic inequities that impact our community. Strategies including making testing and treatment for COVID-19 more accessible and affordable for members of all racial and ethnic groups. This includes expanding telehealth and mobile options to ensure access to needed care, as well as strengthening communication and outreach efforts. Heartland has proudly participated in equity vaccine clinics to ensure fair and equal access to COVID-19 vaccines.

This is just scratching the surface though. Underneath this layer is centuries of racism and discrimination that impact the health of our family, friends, and neighbors. COVID-19 has shone light on the shortcomings of health care and the need to put forth serious effort in reducing barriers for minority populations. The pandemic has taught us what we need to correct. Now it is upon is to create safe, healthy, inclusive communities.

– Lisa Russell, Chief Clinical Officer

Heartland Community Health Center

Lisa Russell Minority Health Month
Lisa Russell, Chief Clinical Officer