Experts say healthcare workers of color could face some of the same disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as minority patients, according to a new paper.
An article published Friday in the Harvard Business Review proposes that the healthcare settings many black clinicians have chosen to work in could put them at higher risk for exposure to the virus.
"Many black providers were more likely to focus on practicing in areas that are the most underserved," said author Adia Harvey Wingfield, a professor of arts and sciences and associate dean for faculty development at Washington University in St. Louis.
Minority communities throughout the country have experienced disproportionately high COVID-19 mortality rates. In Chicago, black residents make up 30% of the total population yet account for 48% of all deaths, according to recent city figures. Similar death rates have been found in New York City, and throughout Michigan and Louisiana.
Wingfield said treating a high number of cases also causes any clinicians to experience burnout, exhaustion and trauma. However, she said the racial disparities of those affected by the pandemic further adds to the pressures felt by minority healthcare workers.
Dr. Aisha Terry, associate professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington D.C., and a board member at the American College of Emergency Physicians, said clinicians of color might feel added pressure combatting a pandemic that's disproportionately affecting their own communities.
"For a physician of color, there's not necessarily any reason for me to think that I would be immune to those disproportionate effects," Terry said.
Winfield said hospitals should take those issues into consideration when mental health supports for clinical staff.
"Caregivers across the board need support, but (systems) also have to be mindful that for black providers there's a racial dynamic to how that mental healthcare gets provided," Wingfield said. "We can't pretend that for black healthcare workers, there's not often a racial element that goes into why they engage in healthcare, why they treat the patients that they do, and how the coronavirus is having an impact when they have to see the consequences of who's suffering in disproportionate numbers."
Airica Steed, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Sinai Health in Chicago, said she could see that play out in her system. Approximately 150 of Sinai's more than 3,500 healthcare workers have been isolated for at least two weeks out of concern they or a family member might have been exposed to the virus. Many were people of color.
Many of Sinai's staff lives within the communities they serve. Steed said Sinai Health has implemented campaigns to support caregivers and is implementing outreach efforts to reduce the impact of the pandemic on the community at large.