A Follow-Up to our Virtual Conversation with Dr. James of Boston Medical Center, Michele Courton-Brown of Quality Interactions and Stan McLaren of Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center
We hosted a virtual conversation on critical health disparities to shine light on recent events affecting communities of color due to COVID-19. Week by week, numbers have shown the disparate impacts of the pandemic for African-Americans in particular and the virus’ reach in other ethnic communities including Latinx and Asian neighborhoods. We talked to our panelists who are medical experts and leaders to collect some of your questions for the blog to shine more light on this issue. You can watch the virtual conversation via our Youtube page.
Given the deep historical context of why we are seeing communities of color being disproportionately impacted, what are some institutional or policy changes that can be made moving forward in Boston to address these inequities and potentially prevent further disparities?
Dr. Thea James, Boston Medical Center:
First, those who govern and create policies must change their mindset about what their goals are for every resident of the Commonwealth. If the goal is to enable everyone to thrive, then every policy should be written to ensure thriving is an outcome. An example is the cliff effect associated with public housing policies. It creates a poverty trap, not allowing people to earn more money so they can ultimately move "out" of public housing. The policy should be written with a goal to move people up the ladder through economic mobility.
Michele Courton-Brown, CEO of Quality Interactions:
Greater healthcare access, affordable prescriptions and improved access to nutritious and affordable food is required. We know residents in hot spot neighborhoods have higher incidents of heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory problems – often not well treated because of costs and lack of access to services.
Stan McLaren, CEO of Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center:
Disparities have long existed in Boston and other areas of the country. However, the rate at which Black people are dying has highlighted racial inequalities that have existed for a long time. Any initiatives to help solve the problem must include community voices, support, and participation that garners trust, so the effort remains sustainable over time. Solutions must also come with a significant community-development component that positively impacts social determinants of health like access to safe and stable housing. We must focus beyond healthcare and look at ways to tie-in opportunities for economic development, education, and criminal justice reform that does something about reducing our number of persons behind bars. These areas are not typically in the healthcare lane but impact our health status, nonetheless. All are interconnected and exacerbate healthcare access inequality.
How does Dr. James feel about the need to cancel schools? Aren't the young relatively safe from the virus, and aren't the kids safer in schools?
Dr. James, Boston Medical Center:
Although age distribution for hospitalization for COVID-19 is skewed age 65 and above, about 30% are between 20-44 and, every age can get COVID-19 and results show that it has impacted every age level. Children can get COVID-19, and we must combat the myth that children aren’t able to be infected and be transmitters of the virus.
From Brockton resident:
What are some of the barriers to healthcare that may be keeping folks from getting tested or receiving treatment for the coronavirus — particularly, among Afro-Caribbean immigrants, who I understand have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic?
Dr. James, Boston Medical Center:
The barriers include transportation, fear, lack of information, undocumented immigration status and reporting if they have to give personal information (some testing sites have national guard and even police at the sites), and limited testing sites. Although [testing sites] have increased significantly in Boston through the City of Boston's efforts and community health centers, we still need to reach people where they are.