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Health leaders need to address disparities in communities of color

Partnerships with communities can help minimize care gaps, says Dr. Garth Graham of CVS.

Mallory Hackett, Associate Editor

Collaboration between health leaders and their local communities is necessary in addressing health disparities among minority groups, according to Dr. Garth Graham, the vice president of community health at CVS Health.

"Partnerships are particularly important," he said during AHIP's Institute and Expo. "If we work together as a nation, we can succeed."

Although African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, they account for about 24% of the COVID-19 deaths, Graham said.

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Issues of health disparities are not new. For years, he said, there have been examples of life expectancy gaps between groups in close proximity to one another.

Graham pointed to one area in Miami, Florida that has a 15-year life expectancy gap between neighborhoods five miles apart.

"What's driving those differences in life expectancies are things like housing, education, socioeconomic status overall," Graham said.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, these disparities have only become more prevalent.

He attributes some of the driving factors for these particular COVID-19-related disparities to the social determinants of health, the over-predominance of African American and Latino frontline workers as well as the higher incidence rates of chronic illness such as diabetes and hypertension in minority groups.

Graham said it's vital to arm these communities with information needed to make empowered health decisions.

"Things like social distancing might be harder if you have housing challenges, but understanding the impact of wearing a mask or other kinds of things is particularly important," he said.

Aside from educating, Graham challenged health plan leaders to step up.

He talked about the strategy that CVS has taken during the pandemic to raise awareness in low-income communities that other companies can follow.

The strategy includes launching targeted specific health messages aimed at preventative actions, mobilizing community partners, engaging with healthcare providers and raising awareness around testing sites and locations.

"Solutions are there and solutions do work," Graham said. "Solutions that engage community partners are particularly important. It's only in addressing things like food insecurity, mental health, increasing access to care can we really start to turn the curb on what is a major challenge."

Twitter: @HackettMallory
Email the writer: mhackett@himss.org