Vermont still facing racial inequities in health care

Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 11:58 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Numbers show racial inequity in health care is still a big deal. Data from the Vermont Department of Health shows adults of color are almost twice as likely to delay getting care because of the cost, among other statistics highlighting the issue.

“We can’t talk about health care without talking about health equity at the same time,” said Dr. Jackie Hunter, SVP chief diversity and inclusion officer at UVM Health Network.

COVID-19 highlighted racial inequities in health care, but Hunter said the problem has always existed. She spoke to WCAX News about her own experience after the birth of her first child.

“I was septic. I almost lost my life. It actually took an ally to come in and demand certain tests were performed,” Hunter explained.

UVM Health Network recently conducted its annual Community Health Needs Assessment. In that, people were asked how much they agreed with the statement “health care providers respect my cultural identity.”

In response, 69.4% of white people agreed with that statement. Among African Americans, that number was only 49.2%. It was even lower among Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, coming in at 36.2%.

“Where you find the disparities is when you start to dig into the data. While our insights might be small here from a racial perspective, it’s not zero,” Hunter said.

She and officials from the Vermont Department of Health say inequities in health care often have more to do with barriers to care rather than the care itself. For example, insurance and transportation.

“We won’t solve these problems by addressing only health care and health care systems,” said Ashley Kraybill, Vermont Department of Health’s Director of Health Equity. “I really think that’s where public health has the opportunity to make the difference.”

In response to the pandemic, they now have staff dedicated to focusing on those barriers to care.

They’re also working to collect even more data about racial inequity across the state.

Some notable statistics they’ve already collected include:

· White, non-Hispanic Vermont adults (86%) are statistically more likely to report having a personal health care provider than adults of color (75%).

· Vermont adults of color (16%) are statistically more likely to say there was a time in the past year they did not go to their health care provider because of cost compared to white, non-Hispanic adults (7%).

· Poor physical health (defined as 14+ poor physical health days in last month) is statistically higher among Vermont adults of color (16%) than white, non-Hispanic adults (9%).

· Vermont adults of color (27%) are significantly more likely to report no leisure-time physical activity than white, non-Hispanic adults (17%).

· Vermont adults of color are more than twice as likely (15%) to report rarely or never getting the emotional and social support they need than white, non-Hispanic adults (7%).

“I think it’s important for us to acknowledge the historical trauma that has occurred in the past, and how do we work to gain the trust of the community? Those are some critical areas to work on and having those strategic partnerships in the community because we can’t do this by ourselves,” Hunter said.

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