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Senators Collins, Casey Lead Hearing on COVID-19’s Disparate Health Impacts on Seniors from Racial and Ethnic Minority Communities

Click HERE to read Senator Collins’ opening statement

Click HERE to read Senator Casey’s opening statement


Washington, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Bob Casey, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Aging Committee, held a hearing to examine ways to address COVID-19’s disparate health impacts on older adults in racial and ethnic minority communities.


According to a New York Times analysis, Black and Latino Americans are infected with the virus at three times the rate as their white neighbors, and they are nearly twice as likely to die from the virus.


Today’s hearing, titled, “The COVID-19 Pandemic and Seniors: A Look at Racial Health Disparities,” 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, community partnerships and culturally and linguistically appropriate services, virtual hospital models, improved data collection and data analytics, opportunities and challenges around telehealth, barriers to participation in clinical trials, and workforce development.


“COVID-19’s effect on long-term care facilities directly intersects with our nation’s persistent racial health inequities.  Unfortunately, Maine has the worst disparities in COVID cases the country, and like most other states, many of our outbreaks have occurred in nursing homes and congregate care settings,” said Senator Collins.  “Today’s hearing included helpful testimony from medical researchers and health care leaders about COVID-19’s disparate health impacts on seniors from racial and ethnic minority communities, and how we can reduce these disparities.”


“The structural inequities that have existed in this country since its inception are causing this pandemic to be more severe among people of color, and too many Black and Latinx seniors are dying from COVID in nursing homes,” said Senator Casey. “We have a chance to start correcting the health care injustices that exist in our country by advancing policies in the next COVID-19 relief package that address these racial health disparities and protect older Americans of color from the worst public health crisis in a century.” 


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 attributed the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having to “health care challenges faced by racial and ethnic minorities” as well as a “glaring lack of health infrastructure in medically underserved communities.”  He also spoke about an innovative partnership he 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.


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, shared her observations and recommendations to address disparities in COVID-19 among older adults.  She explained how her research on chronic diseases and their greater incidence among Black and Hispanic whites mirrors the impact of COVID-19.  She offered three recommendations to help address these disparities: expand digital infrastructure and training to increase access to telemedicine, provide additional financial support to the National Institutes of Health to address the short- and long-term manifestations of the virus and engage the communities that have been hit hardest.


Eugene Woods, the president and CEO of Atrium Health in Charlotte, North Carolina, discussed his organization’s successes as well as lessons learned during the pandemic, specifically regarding the racial health disparities among older individuals that Atrium Health has witnessed.  With 36 hospitals, more than 900 care locations in the southeast, and an annual net revenue of more than $11 billion, Atrium Health is responsible for nearly 14 million patient interactions each year and has been recognized as one of the Best Employers for Diversity.  As of mid-July, Atrium Health had tested more than 108,000 patients for COVID-19 and was performing up to 2,300 tests per day.  Mr. Woods made a series of policy recommendations for the next coronavirus relief package, including investments in public health data analytics, funding for interpretation and translation services, and measures to address testing supply shortages.


Rodney Jones Sr., the CEO of East Liberty Family Health Care Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, spoke about how the COVID-19 pandemic has become a “flashpoint” on racial inequities, financial inequities, and social determinants of health—conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age. As a Federally Qualified Health Center, East Liberty Family Health Care Center works to enhance primary care services in underserved urban and rural communities.  Mr. Jones emphasized the importance of federal funding for community health centers during and after the pandemic so that they can continue serving patients.

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