Addressing Challenges with Minority Health Care
The minority patient experience is still a driver in health care outcomes.
Life expectancy. Infant and maternal mortality. Mental health. All are examples of health disparities affecting underserved and underinsured minority communities. Recent studies have shown that despite the improvements in the country’s overall health, racial and ethnic minorities experience a lower quality of health care and are less likely to receive routine medical care, which may result in higher morbidity and mortality rates than non-minorities.
The Florida Department of Health for Duval County has designated Jacksonville’s Urban Core area as Zone 1 out of six zones measured by poverty rates and minority population. Zone 1 has an 81% minority population and 31% of Duval County’s Black population. UF Health Jacksonville’s downtown campus is in the Urban Core and is committed to addressing health challenges affecting the community and delivering a high quality of health care to all patients.
Ann-Marie Knight, MHA, FACHE, vice president of Community Engagement and chief diversity officer at UF Health Jacksonville, addresses health challenges and, most recently, the fight against COVID-19 within the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.
“We were the first health provider to bring testing to the Urban Core neighborhoods in the early days of the pandemic,” Knight said. “Not only was access to testing limited, education about the virus was needed so residents could take proper safety precautions to avoid contracting and spreading COVID-19.”
Give Your Community a Boost
National Minority Health Month is celebrated in April and this year’s theme is “Give Your Community a Boost,” bringing attention to the continued importance of the COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, especially in disproportionately affected communities of color.
Knight focuses on key issues for minority populations during a pandemic, such as addressing fairness, equity, myths and even the role of politics in health care.
“Across our community, we have to address people’s response to this pandemic so that we can move the needle for the entire community’s benefit,” Knight said.
Last summer, UF Health Jacksonville collectively received more than $1.6 million in grants from local, state and national organizations to help address COVID-19 related health disparities in high-risk and underserved minority communities. Knight believes the funding will help the widest corners of our county by educating, testing and vaccinating residents against the deadly virus.
Building Patient Trust
One barrier to receiving routine medical care is a lack of trust from patients who may have had experiences with racism and discrimination in the past. This erosion of trust results in an unequal impact on people of color and other marginalized groups. These disparities contribute to a lack of health insurance coverage, access to medical services and poorer health outcomes among specific populations.
Ross Jones, MD, medical director of UF Health Jacksonville’s Community Health Program, the Elizabeth G. Means Center and the Total Care Clinic, offers a clinical perspective on significant health disparities affecting local communities.
“A lot of our patients do have that historical knowledge of racism and mistrust in our health system,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, some of our patients experienced it recently. Even before the pandemic, they were not coming to the doctor because they did not trust us as a system. When we are in a crisis, and people are even more reluctant to trust new information and things are changing every day, they are even more hesitant.”
According to a report from the Century Foundation on racism, inequality and health care for African Americans, the majority of Black and Hispanic areas are more likely to lack hospitals and other health care providers due to residential segregation.
The UF Health Total Care Clinic – Jacksonville provides specialty care for patients through the City Contract Program, which provides medical and prescription assistance. A team of doctors, nurses and other providers are committed to maintaining and improving patients’ health through primary care, mental health services, medication management and health education. Jones believes the COVID-19 pandemic illustrated the importance of rebuilding trust among patients and physicians.
“Our responsibility as physicians is to make sure that people are healthy before a pandemic happens,” Jones said. “It is critical to establish a trusting relationship between patients and primary care physicians to take care of their bodies appropriately and get the treatment that they need.”