COVID-19 Crisis an Opportunity To Continue Quest for Health Equity

COVID-19 Crisis an Opportunity To Continue Quest for Health Equity

In this time of crisis, and increasing social need, it’s imperative that we do not stop in our collective quest for health equity.

Our local, state and national social policy efforts have been failing us for years. This is evidenced by the severe disparities in morbidity and mortality rates between groups of people based on the color of their skin, their economic position, and/or their neighborhood alone. These factors should not dictate how long a person lives—yet a mere 2 miles can mean the difference between 70 or 79 years of life.

“We are a long way off from health equity in our society…And we have yet to see what the effects of COVID-19 transmission could be on historically marginalized communities,” said Darrell Hudson, associate professor at the Brown School of Public Health, in this recent article.

We shouldn’t be struck by these outcomes given our poor social supports. Today, we know those who graduate college are likely to live 5 years longer than those who haven’t finished high school, and yet we know college isn’t a resource all families have access to. We know that those in high-income brackets live nearly 7 times longer than those in low-income brackets. We also know having a steady job provides income and an opportunity to live a safe neighborhood, eat healthy foods, and have child care options. Poverty in Oregon indicates that over 13% (pre-COVID) of families can’t access work to pay for these things.

And these facts were present before the COVID-19 crisis. Nearly 93,000 Oregonians filed for unemployment as of the week of March 22, suggesting we will continue to see hardship associated with meeting everyday needs: healthy food options, safe child care, utilities, and housing. Those “lucky enough” to maintain work, are often those that don’t have access to sick leave policies, who are forced to work in environments exposed to the virus.

Unfortunately, this often hits communities of color hardest.

Can we reshape this crisis as an opportunity to think about innovation and transformation for the people who need in the most? If we see the downstream effects of our broken social systems come through the doors of the community health centers in Oregon, can we advocate to change those systems upstream once and for all? How much less of a crisis might this feel for so many Oregonians if food, healthcare, housing, and education were rights not to be lost with the loss of a paycheck?

Let’s continue to make it a priority to address health inequities. As Hudson said: “We must consider this coronavirus crisis as a wake-up call to prioritize equity and challenge ourselves to consider how to better serve historically underserved communities.”

Carly Hood-Ronick, CCO Strategy & Health Equity Director 

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