If 2019 was the year the healthcare industry finally seemed ready to begin significantly addressing the socio-economic causes of health disparities, 2020 largely disrupted those plans.
The events of this year in many ways caused hospitals to rethink their traditional approaches to limiting social problems like food insecurity and housing instability to consider the role racism and discrimination have also played in creating health disparities among minority populations.
Much of the newly found interest in addressing health inequities was sparked by the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. Areas throughout the country with large Black and Brown populations were among the hardest hit by COVID-19. Black individuals who contracted the disease were more than twice as likely to die than white patients, according to an August report from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity.
The spread of COVID-19 throughout the homeless population also highlighted the homeless population’s healthcare needs like never before.
But perhaps it was the wave of protests that swept across the country in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others at the hands of police that could have the most lasting impact for healthcare. Civil unrest prompted many hospitals for the first time to acknowledge systemic racism as a social determinant of health and racism as a public health threat, sparking new conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion.