inFocus: Medical professionals report exacerbated health disparities amid COVID-19 pandemic

inFOCUS

(WDVM) — The U.S. government defines a health disparity as “a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social or economic disadvantage.” While these disparities have already existed, the COVID-19 pandemic has further revealed these differences in care.

Specifically, immigrants experience difficulties in receiving adequate health care due to factors such as immigration status, socioeconomic level, language barriers, and marginalization. As a result, many of these groups are left vulnerable and facing a less favorable outcome.

A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported study concluded that “overall, immigrants have lower rates of health insurance, use less health care, and receive a lower quality of care than U.S.-born populations.”

Veronica Cool, a Dominican Republic immigrant and CEO & Hispanic Strategist at Cool & Associates LLC, says that language barriers, fear of deportation, and alienation creates barriers specifically for undocumented immigrants seeking help. Additionally, she adds that it can prevent immigrants from following public safety protocols.

“If I am not documented, and I hear the word citizen, as it applies to a test or applies to quarantine, or a mask, that doesn’t mean me,” Cool said. “I don’t have papers, I’m undocumented, I’m a green card holder, so I’m not a citizen. Therefore, I’m not going to take the test.”

While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been a first step towards transforming the healthcare system, many community members were left out of the ACA, said Michelle Larue, M.D., Guatemalan immigrant and Director for Health and Human Services at CASA. CASA’s mission is to, “create a more just society by building power and improving the quality of life in working-class and immigrant communities.”

Historically there also is a level of distrust between ethnic minorities and the health community and because of cultural differences, certain group’s right to be healthy is impeded on. Additionally, COVID-19 testing and vaccination have further exposed this relationship between medical professionals and minorities.

“With the onset of vaccines coming out, there is the medical mistrust issue, vaccine hesitancy issues, so all of these go into this melting pot of challenges that we have to continue to crush the curve,” said Dr. Mark Martin, Deputy Director at the Maryland Department of Health’s Office of Minority Health & Health Disparities.

The Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) works to eliminate these disparities by using data to identify the causes of disparities and addressing those factors so that the barriers can be removed.

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