Utah’s four major health systems – Intermountain Healthcare, University of Utah Health, HCA/MountainStar, and Steward Health – joined together last week to declare systemic racism and racial bias a public health crisis and vowed to address and combat it.
Pediatric caregivers are especially concerned with this issue because systemic racism impacts the health of children, not only when they are young, but for the rest of their lives.
Dr. Neal Davis, medical director of community-based care with Intermountain Healthcare and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital, says clinicians must acknowledge the impact of racial disparity and bias on health, and then work to understand it and address it.
“This discussion is long overdue, and we can’t be afraid to shy away because it might make us uncomfortable,” Dr. Davis said. “A system is designed to get the results it gets. We, collectively, are the healthcare system for children. So, inequity in the health of the children by race and ethnicity means that we must learn and change.”
Dr. Davis says the COVID-19 pandemic exposed racial disparities in healthcare outcomes for children similar to adults.
Children of color have experienced higher rates of infection and severe disease from COVID. Even before COVID, there were other examples of how systemic racism and bias can impact a child’s health here in Utah.
In 2019, The American Academy of Pediatrics declared racism a social determinant of health that has a profound impact on the health status of children, adolescents, emerging adults, and their families.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines social determinants of health as the conditions in which people are born, grow, work and age. These determinants are influenced by educational, economic, political, and social factors linked to health inequities.
With systematic racism impacting all these areas, it in turn impacts a person’s health.
Dr. Davis says we must help understand and address inequity in all the social determinants of health if we truly hope to have better outcomes in healthcare.
“Children in our community are harmed by systemic racism and bias and are counting on us to learn and change,” Dr. Davis said. “In addition, we are all negatively impacted by the loss of human potential at the hands of racism. We must strive to work together to address our biases and create systems, including healthcare, that unleash the full potential of every child.”
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