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Discussion: How to mend some of the health disparities highlighted by the pandemic

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

On Intersection, we talk with three experts looking into the causes and solutions of health disparities, such as access to prevention and care.

Black women in America are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy related cause than white women, and maternal mortality is just one health disparity that researchers and doctors are working to understand.

The COVID pandemic highlighted health disparities, such as access to prevention and care, but it also showed how disparities could be mended.

On Intersection, we talk with three experts who are looking into the causes of health disparities and solutions:

  • Dr. Kelli Tice, chief health equity officer and vicepPresident of medical affairs for Florida Blue.
  • Dr. Saleh Rahman, professor of medicine and co-director of the Focused Inquiry & Research Experience program at the University of Central Florida's College of Medicine.
  • Rhetta Peoples, journalist and producer of a series of articles and mini documentaries on health care disparities.

‘”Maternal morbidity, just as with infant mortality, these are not numbers that are new to us, unfortunately, these are conversations that those of us who have worked in this area have had for decades,” says Tice.

“What has been missing is the ability, the desire and the resources to host and have the right conversations, and to reach upstream and address the the things that become those determinants.”

Tice says one thing that the pandemic made clear was the need for more diversity in health care.

“One of the challenges for us as we tried to solve for some of that vaccine hesitancy in the communities that were at greatest risk of severe disease from COVID. It was to identify physicians and other clinical leaders in those communities that could carry the message. And so the underrepresentation that Blacks and other minorities experience in the medical field really shows up in circumstances like this, because the folks that we’re trying to reach really want to hear from an expert that they trust, that they feel has at least similar lived experience.”

Rahman says it’s critical to give the next generation of medical students the training they need to help overcome health disparities.

“I believe our future physicians can not only make a difference in their own practices, but become an advocate for change,” he says.

“Everybody recognizes that our curricula are not sufficiently training our future physicians to understand the concepts of intersectionality, disparity, equity.”

Rahman says medical practitioners need to be aware of how big a factor education, income and socioeconomic conditions can be in determining a patient’s health.

“We have a lot to do in the media to make people aware of what’s happening, these disparities, these inequities,” says Peoples.

“But more importantly, I think legislation is the key as far as trying to change hearts and minds of people who may or may not believe that disparities even exist. I think we’ve been trying to do that for far too long. I think what we need now is legislators who are going to go to bat for us, who are going to talk about these disparities.”

To hear the conversation, click on the Listen button above.

Matthew Peddie