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‘These inequities are heartbreaking’: AG Healey urges action on health care disparities

In May, Black and Latinx activists marched to the State House to advocate for communities of color, who they said were disproportionately affected by the state’s reopening plans.
In May, Black and Latinx activists marched to the State House to advocate for communities of color, who they said were disproportionately affected by the state’s reopening plans.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

Attorney General Maura Healey put out a report Monday outlining her recommendations for reducing the inequities Black, Hispanic, and Latinx communities face in the Massachusetts health care system during the pandemic.

The report hinges on the fact that communities of color have experienced “significantly higher infection rates, hospitalization rates, and age-adjusted death rates than other communities, and are more vulnerable to the economic impacts of the virus.”

“These inequities are heartbreaking, and they are not new, of course,” Healey said on a Zoom call. “What COVID-19 did was amplify, reveal, and certainly exacerbate the health care disparities that have existed in our society from the beginning. Now is the time for us to address that.”

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Healey identified five steps to tackle the problems: Collect better data on patients' races and ethnicities; track the distribution of resources; expand access to telehealth services; diversify the state’s health care workforce; and invest in areas that affect health, such as education and housing.

Healey announced the initiative alongside local health care leaders, who shared their perspectives on how the pandemic has affected people in the state.

During the call, Dr. Altaf Saadi, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, said some immigrants have hesitated to be tested for the coronavirus, for fear it may trigger a response from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She said others have worried about being out of work without paid sick leave, especially if that affects their ability to afford housing.

“The larger theme . . . is that our health response really can’t be divorced from public policy,” Saadi said. “We can’t solve these problems alone as health care professionals.”

Also discussed on the Monday call: ensuring that the state is committed to an equitable strategy for distributing a COVID-19 vaccine when it is ready. Healey urged the Department of Public Health to collect data on the race and ethnicity of all recipients so it can determine whether enough vaccine is reaching low-income populations and communities of color.

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“The data element is at the core,” said Frank Robinson, vice president of public health at Baystate Health, during the call. “I expect that we will have in place, by April, a community-facing health equity dashboard that will allow us to measure and watch the distribution of COVID vaccines.”



Anissa Gardizy can be reached at anissa.gardizy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8.