Senator Collins: ‘Many in our state’s Black community are immigrants from Somalia, Congo, and other African countries, as well as from Haiti. Expanding our state’s overall testing capacity and reaching these individuals are critically important to staying ahead of this virus…’
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Washington, D.C. — The State of Maine has the worst racial disparity in COVID-19 cases in the country. Although Blacks comprise less than two percent of Maine’s population, they account for approximately 23 percent of all cases in the state. Like many other states, many of Maine’s outbreaks have occurred in nursing homes and congregate care settings.
To better understand COVID-19’s disparate health impacts on older adults in racial and ethnic minority communities, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Chairman of the Aging Committee, held a hearing today that featured testimony from a panel of health experts who discussed the overall rates of COVID-19 infections and fatalities in racial and ethnic minority communities, access to testing and follow-up care, virtual hospital models, improved data collection and data analytics, opportunities and challenges around telehealth, barriers to participation in clinical trials, and workforce development.
The Committee heard testimony from Dr. Dominic H. Mack, who serves as director of the Morehouse School of Medicine’s National Center for Primary Care, the nation’s first congressionally sanctioned center to develop programs that strengthen the primary care system for health equity and sustainability. Dr. Mack spoke about an innovative partnership Morehouse is co-leading with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health to address COVID-19 in racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other vulnerable populations. The National COVID-19 Resiliency Network they established is working to disseminate information to these communities and link them to health services.
“Many in our state’s Black community are immigrants from Somalia, Congo, and other African countries, as well as from Haiti. Expanding our state’s overall testing capacity and reaching these individuals are critically important to staying ahead of this virus, and it’s imperative that those most at risk for contracting the coronavirus are able to access testing,” said Senator Collins. “Are you taking a look at recent immigrant population, such as those in Maine, as well as African Americans or Black Americans who have lived in this country their entire lives?”
“We’re suffering some of the same issues among vulnerable populations outside of the African American population. It’s happening all across the country. Not only is insurance a barrier but also education, training, and as you mentioned in your opening statement, mistrust of the system…” replied Dr. Mack. He further explained that they are working “to make sure that everything is culturally and linguistically appropriate for those audiences. A major part of the effort is to have focus groups but also community partners that have what we call boots-on-the-ground abilities within those populations and within those communities… workers [who] actually understand the barriers to testing, to care, to vaccination, etc.”
During the hearing, Senator Collins discussed how Maine organizations that serve our immigrant communities are suggesting that contact tracing will be most successful if it is accomplished in a culturally and linguistically appropriate way by people who are leaders in those communities.
“How do we better activate, recruit, and tap into the expertize of these community partners, who may not have established relationships with traditional public health agencies, so that we can better reach and target testing and follow up services to these at-risk communities?” said Senator Collins.
“… Suggesting that someone from the government is calling to ask questions about where you’ve been can create a lot of anxiety and concern, particularly in immigrant communities. If we can actually find ways to build partnerships between our academic institutions and community leaders, between our health care organizations and community leaders, we can bridge that gap and reach people in order to promote prevention, and reaching people in their language is critical,” replied Dr. Mercedes Carnethon, a professor of epidemiology and the vice chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “One of the most challenging features of this is that we’ve got to build trust in an urgent situation where the very individuals that are experiencing in the worst outcomes are the most concerned about the trust within the healthcare system. I think this can best be done through community partnerships.”
Senator Collins also discussed the importance of ensuring that COVID-19 clinical trials are inclusive of women and minority groups, particularly older Black Americans who may be reluctant to participate given past medical exploitations.