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Hilferty: Together we must address systemic racism in health care – The Philadelphia Tribune

Posted: November 23, 2020 at 6:54 am


This tumultuous year has once again laid bare the inequities that plague the African-American community. From the public cry for justice in the streets to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19, the nation has had to confront the struggle and pain that minority communities face. Systemic racism is real and longstanding and health care is not immune.

Fortunately, I believe that leaders and citizens are motivated to bring about real and lasting change. Hearts and minds are shifting. And if we can transform health care, it can be an engine for equity. But we have a lot of work to do.

COVID-19 exposed a tale of two communities: Some have the means to survive and even thrive under difficult circumstances, while others struggle and fall further behind.

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COVID-19 hospitalization rates among African-American, Hispanic and Latino people have been about 4.7 times the rate of non-Hispanic white people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Philadelphia, city data show that the death rate from COVID-19 among African Americans is 30% higher than for whites, due in part to the higher rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease among African Americans.

The pandemic has also heightened inequality, and those of us in health care know the impact that education, financial means and professional standing have on our overall health and wellness. There is no mistaking that barriers exist in the health care system.

Health care inequities long predate COVID-19, of course. Research has shown that African Americans receive lower quality care and have a shorter life expectancy than whites. They have higher death rates than whites when it comes to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma, influenza, stroke, HIV/AIDS and homicides, according to the Census Bureau.

We have a responsibility to address this injustice and break down barriers. Together, we must ensure that a persons race does not determine their health outcomes.

We can start by increasing access to quality care, making health care not only accessible but affordable to all. At the same time, we need to ensure that diagnoses and treatment are equal for all races. And we need to monitor and measure outcomes.

Independence Blue Cross has committed to these goals and is proud to work with The Philadelphia Tribune in the effort.

We have joined forces with The Tribune to launch Our Community, Our Health, a public health awareness campaign to combat the disproportionate rates of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease in the African-American community. The campaign will empower people to improve their health or the health of someone they love, offering access to health screenings, nutrition services and healthy lifestyle counseling.

In addition to Our Community, Our Health, Independence is addressing health disparities and the social determinants of health that impact minority communities, through efforts across the community including:

Keystone Connection to Wellness, a collaboration with Project HOME to address significant health disparities in life expectancy and infant mortality experienced by North Philadelphia residents.

Working closely with a coalition of regional health organizations that joined forces to transform Mercy Philadelphia into an innovative public health campus, designed to serve the facilitys neighbors, Independence will support community-based, nonprofit social services at the campus.

CommunityLink, development of a citywide network of community-based organizations built with Signify Health to break down barriers between clinical and social care and improve health outcomes for seniors.

MindPHL Together, a comprehensive public awareness campaign to reduce stigma and promote resources for mental health services launched in partnership with the City of Philadelphias Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services.

Beat COVID-19, a public awareness campaign to educate the community about COVID-19 topics.

Donation of 500,000 personal protection masks to physician practices and clinics that serve disadvantaged communities in the Philadelphia region.

Systemic racism is a scar on our nations history. But the mostly peaceful protests by people of all ages, races and ethnicities have encouraged me that we are finally ready to confront the issue. Sometimes difficult and painful conversations are taking place in homes and places of business, as individuals and institutions rethink their role in ensuring equity.

This is true in health care, too, where awareness and action can close the gaps in health and health care access between races and communities. Doing so will create a healthier, more just and prosperous society for everyone. More important, it is the right thing to do.

Daniel J. Hilferty is president and CEO of Independence Blue Cross.

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Hilferty: Together we must address systemic racism in health care - The Philadelphia Tribune

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