The nation’s social inequities are clear in hospitals and health care facilities and the United States must not remain complacent of it, the chair of President-elect Joe Biden’s Covid-19 equity task force says.
“Health care free of racism and discrimination is a right and not a privilege,” Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the task force’s chair, said Friday in a web briefing hosted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Morehouse School of Medicine’s Satcher Health Leadership Institute.
“It is time for us to respond to the crisis of discrimination in healthcare,” Nunez-Smith said.
The pandemic has exacerbated existing health disparities and the associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Yale School of Medicine said that the US needs to “ensure equitable opportunities for health and well-being.”
Earlier this week, Nunez-Smith was introduced as a key member of Biden’s health team. She had previously been appointed as a co-chair of the Transition Covid-19 Advisory Board with former US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. David Kessler and former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Black, Latino and Native Americans have disproportionately been hospitalized and died from the virus. Experts have said the disparity in outcomes has been linked to access to quality health care, healthy food, clean air and water.
“We realized, we must really not become comfortable with the fact that over 70% of African Americans and 60% of Latinx Americans personally know someone who has been hospitalized, or died from Covid-19,” she said.
As health care experts in the US look into 2021, Nunez-Smith says, one of the nation’s priorities should be collecting high-quality data on race and ethnicity and commit to increasing the number of health care workers of color and those in leadership positions
After the country witnessed collective racial injustice and the impact that Covid-19 had in communities of color, Nunez-Smith says, the federal government asked officials to report race and ethnicity data linked to coronavirus cases but there has been a lack of compliance.
“We cannot address what we cannot see,” Nunez-Smith said. “We are making a choice every time we allow poor quality data to hinder our ability to intervene on racial ethnic inequities.”