UNE panel of national experts addresses disparities in health care for Black, LGBTQ+ individuals amid pandemic

U N E's Portland campus quad in the fall
A panel of national experts on Aug. 6 addressed systemic health inequities among the Black and LGBTQ+ community.

People’s race, sexual orientation, income, and social standing are all factors in their access to medical care and the quality of the care they receive. For Black individuals and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, these social determinants of health are often the source of inequities that can lead to substandard care.

These disparities and underlying structural inequalities were recently explored in a panel discussion facilitated by Jennifer Audette, PT, Ph.D., program director and professor of Physical Therapy at the University of New England.

The virtual panel discussion, “Social Determinants of Health and the Intersections of BLM/LGBTQA,” aimed to address the disparities faced by Black and LGBT individuals in light of both the COVID-19 pandemic and rising Black Lives Matter movement. The event was streamed to more than 75 students, faculty, and staff on Thursday, Aug. 6, and invited audience members to participate in the discussion.

The panel was offered by UNE’s Center for Excellence in Collaborative Education in partnership with UNE’s Planetary Health Council. Participating in the discussion were panelists from Regis University, University of Texas at El Paso, University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM), and UNE alum Negeri Clarke, Pharm.D. ’20.

Audette said the intention of the panel was to educate students, as future health providers, on ways to dispel stereotypes about minority groups with the goal of improving health outcomes. The event also served to educate attendees about the differences in health care access between privileged and underserved groups of people.

“It's so important to mitigate stereotypes and the effects that they have on our attitudes toward the people we're going to work with and to figure out how to check ourselves in terms of that,” Audette said.

Questions for the panelists addressed the pandemic and how it has amplified and exacerbated health disparities, disparity narratives that drive stereotypes, and ways to advocate for patients’ well-being.

Panelists agreed that a lack of access to care is a predominant factor in health disparities, particularly with technology access and pharmacy costs amid the pandemic.

“Two of the biggest ways the coronavirus is impacting patients, particularly in the LGBT community, is access to care,” said Melissa Hofmann, M.S.P.T., Ph.D., of Regis University. “These barriers are going to leave this community less likely to get care, and the disparities that exist already mean that more of us in this community will live in a state of compromised health.”

Another systemic issue addressed: a lack of understanding of patients’ needs on behalf of health providers, whether due to language or literacy barriers or implicit biases.

“Intersectionality has to be the approach that we take for health,” said Hoffman.

Lisa VanHoose, PT, Ph.D., M.P.H., of ULM, said health care is really about partnering with patients to determine the level of care necessary — not about “saving” patients based on one’s own perceptions of what is best for them.

“We are service agents, and to be of service to someone, you first must ask what their needs are,” VanHoose said. “This is an opportunity for us to switch our mindsets from contemporary saviorism to partnership. When you come at health care from a savior mentality, that’s not about the patient, that’s not about the community — it’s about you.”

Audette said she hopes attendees took away a better understanding of how the social determinants of health affect different populations and how to mitigate health disparities for their patients.

“We hope people left the session with a better sense of how structures that are in place in our society make matters worse for some people and how on a personal level we can break down those systemic walls that exist for minority groups,” she said.

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