WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan and New Hampshire public health care leaders discussed racial inequities in health care outcomes amid the COVID-19 pandemic during a virtual roundtable discussion yesterday. Participants discussed a range of factors that contribute to why communities of color in New Hampshire make up a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases in the state.
"[The murder of George Floyd] has led to a discussion about racial disparities, inequities, and injustice throughout our country,” Senator Hassan said. “That's obviously something we need to attend to. We needed to attend to it before COVID hit and before we saw the murder of George Floyd. We need to attend to it now.”
During the discussion, the participants discussed a variety of social determinants that influence health outcomes for communities of color.
“With COVID, we're seeing the downstream effects of the upstream social determinants underlying institutional inequities, and the underlying social and structural inequities, such as prejudice based on the social categories of race and class," said Trinidad Tellez, Director of the Office of Health Equity at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.
Joan Ascheim, Executive Director for the NH Public Health Association, talked about her discussions with people of color throughout the state and some of the factors that impact health outcomes, including substance misuse, food insecurity, and the digital divide in education.
“Housing is one of those issues that is really interconnected to all of these issues,” said Ascheim. “But it was interesting that it came up in our discussions with the Department of Corrections, it came up in the groups obviously on housing and homelessness, and it came up in the mental health and substance use group.”
Bobbie Bagley, Director of the Nashua Division of Public Health & Community Services, talked about Nashua’s response to COVID-19 and how the city worked to reach communities of color for testing, which included making sure testing was available in areas that have been historically underserved and hiring diverse staff who could overcome language barriers.
Jaime Hoebeke, Chief Strategy Officer for Manchester Public Health Department, also discussed her city’s efforts to address racial disparities in health care outcomes: “As a local health department we're trained to focus in on community and individuals’ vulnerabilities and all of that is rooted in the social determinants of health…and this approach for us didn't change during the COVID-19 pandemic, if anything it's only emphasized the importance of that approach.”
Some examples that Hoebeke cited included intentional outreach to more isolated communities, setting up the city’s COVID-19 hotline to include help for additional needs, such as food or rent support, and deploying community health workers and school nurses, who already have established relationships with community members, to help with contact tracing and other health needs.
Senator Hassan concluded the discussion by saying, "As challenging as all of the disparities and problems that we've talked about [today are], there are solutions to them and I want people to understand that we have examples of things that work. This is about scaling it, it's about supporting it, and it's about sticking with it, and I know you all do that every day."