Woman is comforted by a health care worker

Coronavirus Shines Light on Health Disparities in Michigan

Everyone in Michigan is being affected by the new coronavirus pandemic in many ways – from our families to our friends to our neighbors. Many of us are dealing with grief, and we’re all adjusting to a new sense of what’s “normal.”

The pandemic is hitting African American and minority communities particularly hard. The statistics are grim, as COVID-19 is shining a spotlight on longstanding disparities in health care access, delivery and outcomes.

African Americans and other vulnerable communities are contracting and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates. While African Americans account for 13.6% of the state’s population, data shows that 41% of the deaths in the state from COVID-19 are of African American residents.

Individuals with underlying heath conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes (sugar), lung disease, kidney disease and other diseases are at higher risk for COVID-19. African Americans, Hispanic/Latinx, Native Americans and some other underserved communities are two to three times more likely to have these health concerns.

These disparities in health outcomes aren’t just related to COVID-19. Disparities are often influenced by bias in health care delivery, lack of access to care, lack of insurance and underinsurance, environmental and social living conditions and many other factors.

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the harmful impact that these “social determinants of health” can have in our most vulnerable communities, and why we need to step forward to address them.

In the short term, Blue Cross is working with community partners and grassroots organizations to make sure residents have the information they need to help decrease the spread of coronavirus. Education and information are very important, as is reminding us all to stay home as much as possible, to wear a face covering or mask when going into public and to maintain a distance of at least six feet between ourselves and others.

Blue Cross also has a health care disparities team that was established before the pandemic and focuses on long-term and systemic approaches to addressing health and health care disparities. As a member of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s task force to address racial disparities related to COVID-19 outcomes in Michigan, I know together we can make strides in breaking down the longstanding systemic barriers that have left many families and friends vulnerable in the pandemic.

Bridget Hurd is a senior director of Diversity and Inclusion at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

A list of COVID-19 preventative measures

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