A Move Toward Health Equity in Current Times

WESTCHESTER/PUTNAM – “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman.”

These words were spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. back in 1966. Yet, more than 50 years later, Covid-19 has managed to shine a bright light on the huge gaps in health equity that exist here and around the country.

Seven million confirmed U.S. cases and over 200,000 deaths later it’s indisputable that communities of color have largely bore the brunt of the pandemic. Data has revealed that African Americans and Latinos in the U.S. have been three times more likely to contract Covid-19 than white residents, and nearly twice as likely to die from it.

“Economically disadvantaged people and those who have been historically marginalized already face significant obstacles to achieving good health, but particularly at times like this,” said Lindsay Farrell, President and CEO of Open Door Family Medical Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center serving nearly 60,000 patients annually. “Since the height of the pandemic, our patients have to go to work to support their families, often riding mass transit to get there, and have trouble socially distancing because they can’t afford to live in large homes. They are also more likely to suffer from pre-existing health conditions like diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease,”

Open Door was recently recognized by the Health Resources Service Administration (HRSA) as the number one Health Disparities Reducer in New York State for its work meeting or exceeding the Healthy People 2020 goals across different racial/ethnic groups. Additionally, HRSA named Open Door as a leading Access Enhancer, which recognizes health centers that increase the total number of patients served and the number of patients receiving comprehensive services.

“Our responsibility is to address all of the factors that determine health outcomes, with a focus on the areas of critical need,” said Farrell, “After all, health care disparities are closely linked to housing conditions, education, food insecurity, language barriers, lack of technology and transportation access.”

HRSA provides these awards to promote optimization of overall quality, efficiency, and value of the health care services provided by the nation’s health centers, and to celebrate their recent achievements in providing high quality care to nearly 30 million patients throughout the country. Open Door is among the highest performing health centers nationwide.

Community Health Centers like Open Door – which opened its first site in 1972 in the aftermath of race riots in Ossining and now offers health care services throughout the Lower Hudson Valley – were established to eradicate health disparities by offering quality affordable care to underserved communities, regardless of ability to pay.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be healthy.” However, to achieve health equity, points out Farrell, obstacles to health must be removed.

Open Door provides patients with care that goes beyond the exam room. Throughout the pandemic, this means distributing face masks, food and newborn resources, virtual wellness programs that encourage physical activity and eating healthy foods, and the coordination of access to community partners for non-health services.

“The pandemic has revealed the disproportionate impact of crises on low-income communities and communities of color,” she said. “As we look ahead to the possibility of a second wave of the virus, we need to make sure these recurring patterns of health disparities do not repeat themselves.”

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