Part of CHHSM’s advocacy emphasis is the Be A Voice Health and Human Service Advocacy Toolkit, which is introducing new topic areas each month. In recent months, as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought racial and ethnic disparities in health and human services into focus, the toolkit also has used health equity as a lens for examining and advocating for an end to those disparities.
A new bill recently introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate might take that one step further. Aiming to address the racial and ethnic disparities that have emerged during the current pandemic, the COVID-19 Bias and Anti-Racism Training Act was introduced by Rep. Alma S. Adams (D.-N.C.) to the House and by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) in the Senate.
“The COVID-19 Bias and Anti-Racism Training Act would help healthcare providers, state and local public health departments, and health professional schools to implement or improve bias and anti-racism training for health care professionals working on the COVID-19 response,” Adams said in the release. “The bill would prioritize solutions for communities with high levels of racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 rates and outcomes, including our hardest hit communities.”
In announcing the bill to the public, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said she was glad to introducing the bill with Rep. Adams. “People of color are being infected and dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate and astounding rates,” Harris said in the release. “This is, in part, due to persistent bias in our health care system. … I’m glad to partner with Representative Adams on this bill which is a critical step toward ensuring people — especially people of color — receive comprehensive, culturally competent care.”
Specifically, the bill would create a $200 million grant program for hospitals, state, local, Tribal, and territorial public health departments and nonprofits. The monies would be used to establish and/or improve bias and anti-racism training programs for health care providers treating people with COVID-19, as well as providers who are involved in such response efforts as contact tracing.
Sandy Sorensen, director of the Washington, D.C., office of the UCC’s Justice and Local Church Ministries, echoed the sentiments expressed by the two Congresspersons. “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown in stark and staggering terms something studies and research have shone for decades: there are dramatic racial disparities in health care access and quality of care, and it is costing countless lives,” Sorensen said. “Measures like Sen. Kamala Harris’ proposed legislation to provide funding for training health care providers in addressing racial bias and disparities in treatment is one important step in addressing these deep-seated and longstanding disparities.”
The act also prioritizes funding for organizations in communities with high racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, ICU admission, and death rates. A sister bill, the COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act, calls for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to improve the collection and public dissemination of COVID-19 demographic data.
The new bill requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to collaborate with healthcare professionals, policy experts specializing in addressing bias and racism within the healthcare system, and community-based organizations in developing evidence-based, ongoing bias and anti-racism training.
“Racism has been a public health crisis for far too long in this country, and the dramatic ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic is hurting communities of color, particularly Black and Indigenous peoples, is directly connected to how structural racism persists in every layer of our society, including our health care system,” said the Rev. Elyse Berry, D.Min., CHHSM’s associate for advocacy and leadership development. “We need more focused efforts, funding, and legislation, like the COVID-19 Bias and Anti-Racism Training Act, to be part of the centuries-long movement for racial justice and healing.”