Louisiana-based Ochsner Health is pledging $100 million over the next five years to help eliminate healthcare disparities, as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to further hinder the health of the state's most vulnerable residents.
The commitment is part of a 10-year plan the health network has developed with state and local officials, as well as academic and community leaders to improve the state's health status.
"Louisiana's unfortunate distinction of being ranked one of the least healthy states is not just a number — it reflects the lives and livelihood of our friends, neighbors, colleagues and family," said Warner Thomas, president and CEO of Ochsner Health in a statement. "We won't accept the challenges we face today as our future state and are committed to improving our health and implementing our vision over the next decade."
The investment will go toward programs such as opening 15 community health centers over the next three years in underserved areas of the state.
Ochsner Health will also partner with Xavier University to develop the Ochsner Xavier Center for Health Equity to better understand how issues involving race, ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic status contribute to poorer health outcomes and health inequity.
The center will focus on researching health outcomes and services, workforce development to improve diversity, equity and inclusion among the state's healthcare providers, connecting patients with local supports to address their social needs, and advocating for local and state lawmakers to develop public policies that incorporate improving health.
A major focus of the plan involves expanding the state's primary care workforce. Ochsner is committing $15 million over the next five years to cover medical school tuition for students who choose to practice primary care or psychiatry in Louisiana with the health system through its scholars program.
Slated to begin next year, the program is expected to provide support for 30 medical students a year, half of whom will be from underrepresented groups or socioeconomic backgrounds.
Ochsner pledged to invest another $15 million over the next 10 years to support tuition and workforce development programs that increase the number of nursing and allied health professionals.
Louisiana currently ranks 49th in the U.S. in overall health, according to the most recent findings from America's Health Rankings Annual Report and has ranked near or at the bottom for nearly a decade. The report's rankings are based on health outcomes as well as determinants like risky health behaviors, environmental health factors, healthcare access and the effectiveness of the state's health-related policies.
The state has some of the highest rates of infant mortality at 7.5 deaths for every 1,000 live births, diabetic adults at 14%, and obese adults at 37%.
High rates of poverty, unemployment and food insecurity have all contributed to high rates of low-income residents having underlying conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease.
These factors have had a major role in why minority and low-income communities have continued to be disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in both deaths and hospitalizations. Black, Latinx and Indigenous people die at roughly three times the rate of White people from COVID-19, according to figures from American Public Media Research Lab.