This is a moment when long-existing disparities and systemic inequality in health care, housing, employment, policing and more have been exposed with a powerful rawness. Addressing those concerns will be key to the recovery of our region and nation.
None of the problems are new, but they have gotten worse over the past few decades as the American dream fades for too many. Now the coronavirus pandemic, and its staggering levels of unemployment, have highlighted just how at-risk our low-income, minority, disabled and immigrant communities are. Inflamed tensions since the tragic death of George Floyd have only served to further expose these disparities.
That’s why the Mount Sinai Health System’s new Institute of Health Equity Research is so promising.
The institute will work with researchers and other experts to drill down on health-related problems that disproportionately impact at-risk groups, from high blood pressure to diabetes, while factoring in issues like race, disability, poverty and pollution. It also will partner with representatives from government, business, community organizations, and advocacy groups in New York and beyond.
Mount Sinai isn’t the only hospital system whose executives are thinking through these issues. Michael Dowling, who heads Northwell Health, said last week that Northwell was “committed to creating the equity of care that everyone deserves.” Northwell’s sheer reach will be critical to allowing Long Island to better address the needs of communities underserved for generations.
At Mount Sinai, the new institute’s first step is to capture the problem, in data and detail. That’s easier said than done. But understanding the extent of the disparities, during the pandemic and beyond, will help the institute develop an action plan, and find ways to improve health care delivery, and more, for our most vulnerable residents.
The institute is starting with a survey, issued in 11 languages, to determine how specific populations were impacted by COVID-19. With a broad scope and plenty of outreach, the survey could tell us more than what state and local statistics show. To encourage participation, local community groups must establish trust among those most at-risk.
Then it’ll be up to the institute and experts with whom it partners to arrive at concrete, innovative solutions to thus-far intractable problems. Those answers may vary from state to state and region to region. It’ll be incumbent upon Mount Sinai to recognize those differences, and to focus particularly on Long Island, where structural problems, from housing segregation to health care availability, remain. Those on the Island should participate in the institute’s plans to establish an “equity ideas lab.”
For insight to lead to progress, state and local elected officials must pay attention, and act upon the institute’s suggestions. As COVID-19 exposed ugly disparities we knew existed, this is a chance to address them in big ways, from hiring to housing to health care.
The more Long Island’s community organizations get involved, the more they can make their voices — and the voices of all of the Island’s vulnerable residents — heard. — The editorial board