April is recognized by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services as National Minority Health Month.
- April is National Minority Health Month. And as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and disproportionately impacts minority groups, now is an incredibly important time to address these inequities. Wanda Harris is the President and CEO of Optum Colorado. She is here to talk about health equity in our state.
Wanda, first and foremost, thank you for taking the time to have this important discussion. Can you address the importance of the recognition of National Minority Health Month?
WANDA HARRIS: Yes, most definitely. One, thank you Kelly for having me. Right? This is a community that I belong to. So I am extremely excited to talk about National Minority Health Month. And what the National Minority Health Month is recognized, because social determinants of health have historically prevented people of color from having fair opportunities for economic, physical, and emotional health.
As an example, as you stated let's use COVID-19 for an example. So according to the CDC, minorities are 1.7 times likely to catch COVID-19. They are 3.7 times likely to be hospitalized. And unfortunately, 2.4 times likely to die from COVID compared to their white, non-Hispanic counterparts.
So National Minority Health Month is dedicated to encouraging awareness with these health inequities. And coming up with solutions to solve some of the disparities that exist in these underprivileged, underserved areas and communities.
- And Wanda, throughout the pandemic, we've heard the terms health equity and health disparities-- like you just mentioned-- I mean, several times. Will now with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, we're also hearing about vaccine equity. Can you talk about what that looks like here in Colorado?
WANDA HARRIS: Most definitely. Health equity is helping people live their healthiest lives by giving them care and support that they need to achieve that optimal health. It's providing different support to make up for disparities stemming from systemic disadvantages. So when you think of health disparities, they are differences in health outcomes. And these causes among certain groups of people.
So for example, in 2011, the CDC report shows that African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and Alaska Native populations-- they suffer higher mortality rates than any other populations. And reducing health disparities creates better health for all Americans, Kelly. And that is why National Minority Health Month is so important, as it exposes health inequities and disparities across the nation.
- So what is Optum doing specifically to really reach out to these underserved communities here in Colorado to ensure they have equal, if not greater, access to health needs, as well as the vaccine?
WANDA HARRIS: Well, so when you think of Optum, we are a health care organization who really strives to shape health care that works for a patient's whole health. So our aim is to bring every aspect of health care to give patients a complete view of their health. We provide patients with personalized insights to help them guide their decisions for healthy outcomes.
So simply put, we strive to achieve the quadruple aim, which means enhancing the patient's experience, improving population health, reducing costs for the patients, and enhancing our care teams' experience as well. So what are we doing for our communities that are underserved and underprivileged? A couple of things that Optum is focused on is meeting the patient where they are.
So using the COVID-19 example again, patients in the underserved areas cannot get to many of the vaccination sites. So you think of the Pepsi Center and you think of UC Health. They can't get to those sites, because they do not have vehicles.
So we worked with the governor's administration to identify these areas. And we set up vaccination pop-up clinics to meet the patients again, where they are. We also are working with churches and local nonprofit organizations to identify patients that can't leave their home, that are homebound, or that are stuck-- I shouldn't say stuck, but they are in senior nursing facilities.
So we have a mobile van that goes to the different locations to meet those patients and do vaccination administration.
- And finally one-- I mean, this is clearly as you've kind of pointed out, I mean, this is a prominent issue during the COVID-19 pandemic, but this is something that has existed for some time, even before COVID-19. So what would you say to encourage-- whether it be other companies or even individuals-- to help reach these underserved communities to create a better health equity situation?
WANDA HARRIS: Yeah, and so some of the disparities that exist in these communities is health care access and quality. If you think about African-Americans from ages 18 to 49, they are two times more likely to die from heart disease, as an example. So joining the American Heart Association will give you some insight on some of those disparities.
Hispanics are almost three times as likely to be uninsured as their white counterparts. And so being a part of that community or those organizations that allows education about where these deficiencies are is really going to be key. Education access and quality is another issue in these areas.
And so helping to educate the community is really, really important. Economic disability-- so a majority of the health access are not meant for those patients that do not have health care. So they don't go to see any type of preventive measures, they are seen in the ERs. And that's when they need to go to the hospital.
And majority of the time, it's too late when they get to the ER. And so preventive measures are very important. And by educating ourselves on what the needs are in these communities is really going to be key. Once you educate yourself, get involved.
Help these communities grow and be exposed to better health care, better education. Responding to their environmental challenges, like quality of housing, access to transportation. Teach them how to eat healthier or get them better quality air and water.
And lastly, one of the disparities in the community is crime and violence in underserved and underprivileged communities, right? How do we decrease that experience for the community to give them a better mental, physical, and economic healthy lifestyle.
- All excellent point, and Wanda I'm so glad that you and Optum Colorado are doing all you can to certainly help those who are in need of greater health care access here in Colorado. So thank you so much for your time today. And if you need more information about COVID-19, including access to the vaccine, we have that information at CBSDenver.com.