Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey released a report today identifying and exploring responses to racial injustice in health care.
At a virtual press conference Monday, Healey said the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on people of color.
“Moreover, that disproportionate burden and pain is really based on a host of other inequities in our health care system and beyond, across society,” said the attorney general.
In the report titled “Building Toward Racial Justice and Equity in Health: A Call to Action,” the Democrat says Massachusetts must confront both existent barriers to access for marginalized communities along with the current coronavirus crisis.
“COVID-19 data clearly shows that Black, Hispanic and Latinx residents have fared far worse than white residents over the course of this pandemic," said Healey. "They’re more likely to have been infected, they’re more likely to be hospitalized and they’re more likely to die.”
Those communities are hit harder by exacerbating factors like job and food security, housing, mental and emotional health issues and more.
“Since the pandemic began, people of color have been more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression," Healey said. "We’ve see hate incidents directed towards Asian residents. People of color are more likely to hold jobs that can’t be done remotely. These are jobs that have been essential to combating the pandemic, but they’re also jobs that have forced people to choose between their own health or paying their bills each month.”
Black, Hispanic and Latinx residents rely more heavily on public transit and are more likely to live in multigenerational homes, making them more vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 and less able to isolate.
Healey said the pandemic has only amplified longstanding failures to provide for marginalized groups.
“In Massachusetts – let me just give you some statistics – In Massachusetts, residents of color face higher rates of heart failure, stroke hospitalization and diabetes related death than white residents," she said. "Black women in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts die in childbirth at twice the rate of white women. And the infant mortality rate for Black newborns in our state is twice that of white newborns.”
The first of five specific calls to action in Healey’s report is improved data collection on patient demographic information like race and ethnicity.
“Expanding access to this robust data set is the first step to helping us better understand disparities and helping us track progress towards health equity,” said the attorney general.
The second calls for low-income communities and communities of color to have access to the same health care as everyone else in the state.
“We need to make sure that clinical tools work to promote health equity,” Healey said.
The third calls for the continued expansion of telehealth.
“Telehealth as we have seen can address many long-standing barriers to accessing health care," said Healey. "But this is only going to work if we address the digital divide, build digital health literacy and insure that patients have options to access care online or by phone in a way that works for them.”
The fourth action is to address the fact that the health care workforce does not represent the communities it serves.
“This lack of representation hurts communities of color,” said the attorney general.
The final call to action is to link the failings of the health care system to the larger societal inequities.
“Strategies and partnerships to address social, economic and environmental injustice belong at the center of the health care and health equity conversation," said Healey. "For example, clean energy policy and investment in green jobs can improve the environmental and economic conditions that shape the health of the community.”
You can read Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s new report on pursuing racial justice in the health care system by clicking here.