A $200,000 grant will back a Michigan State Medical Society initiative that looks to address racial and ethnic disparities in health care across the state.
The two-year planning grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation supports the Medical Society’s Partnering to Advance Health Equity initiative that seeks to create better understanding of health care disparities and work with physicians to provide the support needed to drive changes in their local market.
From the left: Dr. Theodore Jones, Ben Louagie
The issue has come to the forefront for the health care industry during the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic that “has served as a stark reminder that health inequities absolutely persist within our health care system, with people of color bearing a disproportionate burden of cases and deaths throughout the pandemic,” said Dr. Theodore Jones, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Wayne State University who chairs the Medical Society’s Task Force to Advance Health Equity.
“Working to eliminate the inherent structural and systemic racism baked into our health care system that lead to these kinds of disparate health outcomes is a huge priority for MSMS. This grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will go a long way towards getting us there,” Jones said in a statement.
Health systems and care providers began placing a greater emphasis on persistent health disparities as the pandemic disproportionately affected communities of color. In the early months of the pandemic, Black residents who represent 14 percent of the state’s population accounted for more than 40 percent of Michigan’s COVID-19 deaths, according to the Michigan Coronavirus Racial Disparities Task Force chaired by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist.
The state was able to help reduce the COVID-19 death rate among Black residents in 2020 by providing funding to increase access to coronavirus testing and flu vaccines, as well as improved contact tracing.
A final report that the 23-member task force issued in February made several recommendations to improve data collection on racial and ethnic disparities in health care and to increase access to care in marginalized neighborhoods.
Directors at the Michigan State Medical Society, which represents more than 15,000 doctors across the state, have made advancing health equity a key priority and are committed to driving change, said Ben Louagie, the Medical Society’s chief of staff and chief strategy officer.
Through Partnering to Advance Health Equity, physicians can take a leading role in what is likely to become a yearslong push to change the system and remove disparities in care, Louagie said.
The Medical Society has been offering implicit bias training and wants health equity “to become part of the practice of medicine,” Louagie said. That starts with an “increased willingness and comfort level for the health care community to acknowledge that there is disparity and that there needs to be equity across health care,” he said.
“As leaders, physicians need to work to address this. It can’t be done if the leaders of health care aren’t addressing it,” Louagie said. “That commitment, obviously, will take many years. By getting that foundation and planning in place, we can take that and, hopefully, help impact meaningful change.”
By committing to the issue and through the Partnering to Advance Health Equity initiative, the Medical Society plans to connect with groups across the state “that impact the individual when it comes to health care beyond medicine,” Louagie said. That includes community organizations involved in food insecurity, rental assistance, shelters and other causes, he added.
The planning process will include physician surveys, connecting with community and neighborhood organizations in a series of town halls over the next 18 months, examining and replicating the work of other groups on health care disparities, and working with the American Medical Association to implement best practices, Louagie said.
“There’s work that has been going on out there. It is not the Medical Society’s intention to solely address this,” he said. “We’ll lean on the good work that’s been done. We don’t see our role as recreating anything that’s already been done. We want to build on it and advance it going forward.”