Our commitment to health equity must continue after the pandemic
Across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed health disparities experienced by people of color. For example, data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation through July/August 2020 showed that individuals who were Black or Hispanic were hospitalized at a rate of approximately five times that of people who are white, and Black people died of COVID-19 at a rate twice that of white people.
These dramatic COVID-19 outcome differences exist among numerous other health disparities experienced by people of color and are a reflection of deep-rooted inequities in social, economic and health care systems.
The health disparities that communities of color face may have been brought into the headlines by the pandemic, but they've been a longstanding reality, a reality that Community Health Centers like VNA Health Care, formerly Visiting Nurse Association of Fox Valley, have been working to address.
CHCs, which are also known as Federally Qualified Health Centers, are on the front lines, working to improve access to care and health equity for the medically underserved with the provision of comprehensive primary care and other health care services, including services to help address social determinants of health.
That's why when the pandemic hit, CHCs were able to quickly mobilize to provide care for those most at risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes -- and get care to people where they can access it, whether that's at a medical facility, community location or an individual's home. At VNA, where we operate 16 clinics across suburban Chicago, staff have provided ongoing medical care through the pandemic for 74,000 patients, answered 400,000 phone calls, conducted over 32,000 COVID tests and launched a vaccination campaign for the community with over 45,000 doses of vaccine administered so far.
The majority of our services are delivered to those who are often overlooked and ignored in our community, including people of color, those living at or near poverty or the under or uninsured. We must continue to find creative solutions to addressing the health care inequities facing these communities as we emerge from the pandemic.
One such example is a new initiative, the Illinois Pandemic Health Navigator program, which serves all Illinois residents with an objective of reaching the most vulnerable. Last month we were honored to host Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin, and other community leaders at one of our Aurora locations to announce this initiative and highlight the work of CHCs and other community organizations.
As we move toward full recovery, this program, led by the Illinois Public Health Association and Illinois Primary Health Care Association, brings together community based organizations, public health departments and CHCs, including VNA, to create a statewide network of care coordination resources to assist individuals impacted by COVID-19.
As we near a post-pandemic world, let us keep at the forefront what this crisis has made abundantly clear -- that disease does not affect us equally. And let us use our collective determination and abilities as a community, state and nation to tackle the root causes and fix the systems that contribute to numerous health inequities in order to ensure all people have a fair and just opportunity to be healthy.
• Linnea Windel, of Geneva, is the President and CEO of VNA Health Care.