Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put certain racial and ethnic communities at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, Edward M. Ellison, MD, said in recent print and video interviews with the American Medical Association (AMA).
“Nationally, it has been recognized that Black and Latinx communities have historically had increased challenges with access to health care in general,” said Dr. Ellison, who is executive medical director and chairman of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group. The resulting lack of access to proper nutrition and higher rates of preexisting conditions in these communities, he added, “predisposes [patients] to more significant outcomes with COVID-19 like heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes.”
To address the needs of underserved communities during the current pandemic, Kaiser Permanente is supporting its Permanente physicians to meet the needs of patients from diverse backgrounds, said Dr. Ellison, who also serves as chairman and chief executive officer of The Southeast Permanente Medical Group and co-CEO of The Permanente Federation.
“We worked hard to do outreach to our patients with communication about what’s going on to reduce fear and uncertainty about the COVID virus, to get facts, to be as fact-based as possible,” he told the AMA, “and to provide that in different languages so that we can make it easier for different communities to have the information that they need.”
To help the physicians of the Permanente Medical Groups maintain Kaiser Permanente’s 75-year commitment to equity and inclusion during the pandemic and recent social unrest, the organization also continues to support programs such as Hippocrates Circle, a Kaiser Permanente Southern California program designed to motivate under-represented students towards careers as physicians.
Creating a safe, secure, and respectful work environment, Dr. Ellison said in the AMA COVID-19 Update video interview, “helps you do a better job of taking care of diverse populations, and it supports the wellness of physicians. If you don’t feel respected, you don’t feel safe in your environment, then you can’t do well. So, there is connectivity between physician wellness and recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce and the best care for a diverse population. It all ties together.”