As our country faces the worst economic downturn in a century due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans are experiencing financial strain, leading to food insecurity and rising homelessness. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by both the Coronavirus and the resulting economic crisis, creating multiple barriers to health.
The health-care industry has long recognized the awful truth that race and economic status are linked and both are social predictors of health. The difference in life expectancy between the richest 1 percent and poorest 1 percent of Americans is about 12 years, and between Black and white people there is a 4-year gap on average, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, research shows that underrepresented populations tend to receive lower quality of care and experience greater morbidity and mortality from various chronic diseases. The renewed focus on race amid the COVID-19 pandemic and protests over societal bias provide an opportunity for structural change.
In the United States, we spend more on health care and less on the social services that support healthier communities than most industrialized nations. Today’s pandemic continues to highlight how this mismatch in spending is driving some of our poor health-care outcomes. The potential for a significant rise in homelessness, food insecurity and other social issues amid COVID-19 will have drastic effects on health. We already know, for example, that chronic homelessness can cut 27 years from a person’s life. We cannot keep people healthy if they cannot keep a roof over their head and food on the table.
Our country’s health-care system is already facing a massive challenge as it cares for those infected with the coronavirus. How can we address the physical, psychological, economic and social impacts of inequity and systematic racism to foster more equitable and healthier communities? Join a panel of experts as we explore opportunities to drive health equity.
Panel: Joseph Bettencourt, Massachusetts General Hospital; Aletha Maybank, American Medical Association; Leana Wen, George Washington University; Ronald Wyatt, MCIC Vermont; April Dembosky, KQED Radio, Moderator
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