Mercy Health pledges to push for racial equity in health care

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Posted at 6:41 PM, Feb 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 18:57:05-05

Mercy Health is joining 22 other Catholic health care systems to invest in anti-racist health care practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a pledge signed by all 23 organizations.

The pandemic has exposed and deepened existing racial disparities in the American medical system, where Black patients already suffered worse outcomes for a variety of health issues and were more likely than white patients to lack consistent access to care.

Now, Black patients are also more likely to become seriously ill and die if they contract COVID-19 — which they do at higher rates than white patients, despite making up a much smaller share of the United States population.

“In marginalized communities, it's often the social determinants” that create these situations, Bon Secours Mercy Health diversity officer Odessa Stapleton said. “It’s economics. ‘If I had a place to live, if I had a job, if I had access, maybe I would not be sick.’”

And the history of racism within medicine means many Black patients are also skeptical of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Mercy plans to fight mistrust and invest in minorities’ health by spending in areas hospitals typically don’t, putting money into eviction prevention and contracting with minority-owned businesses.

The system will also take steps to ensure vaccination and testing are widely available in different communities, promote “cultural competence” among medical workers and focus harder on building a diverse staff.

For Ronald Williams, a Black Cincinnatian who accepted the vaccine only after research convinced him to ignore negative past experiences with health care, trust in the system demands proof over time.

“If you're not vigilant, if you don't do your research, you're not advocating for yourself, you're subject to be the victim of some type of biased treatment,” Williams said.