Michigan’s chief medical director lectures on health disparities at UM

Michigan State Chief Medical Officer Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian delivered the first memorial lecture for Susan Moore, MD on Tuesday evening. The conference, titled “Recognizing and Addressing Health Inequalities: Building on Lessons Learned During COVID-19,” was hosted by the Michigan Medicine Department of Anesthesiology in honor of Dr. Susan Moore, graduated in 2002 from the University of Michigan Medical School. In 2020, Moore died of COVID-19 after posting a video talking about receiving racist treatment at an Indiana hospital.

Dr. Matthew Wixson, assistant professor of anesthesiology and associate chair of the department for diversity, said the video received national attention. As a person of color working in healthcare, Wixson said seeing him affected him on a deeply personal level.

“If it can happen to Dr. Moore, who was a famous and accomplished graduate (of medical school), it can happen to anyone,” Wixson said. “Today and into the future, Dr. Moore’s legacy inspires us to bring about lasting change.”

Bagdasarian said Moore’s death and the COVID-19 pandemic have drawn attention to pre-existing racial health disparities seen across the country. Bagdasarian said that at one point in May 2020, the death rate from COVID-19 was five times higher for non-Hispanic black people in Michigan than for non-Hispanic white people. According to Bagdasarian, health disparities are caused by socioeconomic differences, reduced access to health care, education and healthy food, and exposure to racial and ethnic discrimination.

“You see this disparity,” Bagdasarian said. “You see the (COVID-19) cases in African Americans were much higher.”

In addition to disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths, Bagdasarian said there was also a significant difference in vaccination rates between different racial and ethnic groups. She said the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported that 51.7% of non-Hispanic white people in Michigan had completed an initial COVID-19 vaccination streak, compared to just 39.5% of non-Hispanic black people. hispanics. Bagdasarian said part of that difference can be explained by past medical mistreatment of black Americans, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study conducted from 1932 to 1972, which led to marked distrust of the health care system.

“We have heard about fears about what has been done to black communities in the past,” Bagdasarian said. “We also heard that black voices are not being listened to.”

According to Bagdasarian, many local and statewide efforts in Michigan have been made to address health disparities based on race and other demographic identities. One of the measures Bagdasarian found effective was the creation of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities in April 2020, which was launched by Executive Order 2020-55 with the goal of addressing racial disparities in health care. .

“This was a working group of community leaders, health professionals (and) people from affected communities coming together and trying to address this issue of health disparities,” Bagdasarian said. “Their goals were to increase transparency in recording data, reduce barriers to mental health and medical care, reduce medical bias, improve infrastructure, and support recovery.”

Bagdasarian said the task force has partnered with local communities across the state to establish COVID-19 testing sites and vaccination centers, using the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index to determine which areas would benefit the most from health infrastructure. In addition to pop-up sites, Bagdasarian said it was important to ensure that vaccines become more widely available at trusted medical centers, including primary care offices and family health facilities.

“We know trusted messengers are key,” Bagdasarian said. “One of the things that keeps coming up when we do focus groups is that patients are reluctant to get vaccinated or have their children vaccinated. They want to talk to their trusted messenger. … They want to talk to a doctor they know and trust, and they want to have their children vaccinated by their pediatrician. It doesn’t happen.

Bagdasarian pointed out that while racial disparities in health care have become more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are part of a long-standing systemic problem. In urban Michigan, she said, black infants are about three times more likely to die before their first birthday than white infants, and the maternal mortality rate is also higher among black Michiganders than among the white Michiganders.

“So how do we dismantle this system?” Bagdasarian asked. “I think everyone can deal with it one way or another, but we have to get the job done.”

Dr. Kevin Chan, a professor of critical care pulmonary medicine, attended the conference and told the Michigan Daily that he knows the health disparities between various racial, ethnic and gender demographics are frustrating because he tried to solve them in his own work. However, they continue to persist due to their systemic nature, making it difficult for marginalized communities to rebuild trust in the health sector.

“We know what we need to do, but we failed to do the right thing,” Chan said. “The other thing is that every day I’ve learned new ways that inhibit our ability to reduce disparities…so that’s my frustration with health care.”

Paige Johnson, a sophomore at LSA, hopes to one day work in public health. She said she was happy to see a state government official like Bagdasarian speak to the UM community about these health disparities. She said knowing that students, faculty and staff are discussing these issues and working to find solutions makes her optimistic about the future of healthcare.

“We can still be the generation to fix this problem,” Johnson said. “Our generation is becoming more aware of these issues, becoming more active (and) fighting for equality.”

Nadia Taeckens, daily staff reporter, can be reached at taeckens@umich.edu.

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