VCU Experts, Nonprofit Leaders Discuss How to Support Vulnerable Populations During Pandemic
By Jenny Pedraza
More than 150 people participated in the webinar, “Plan a Better Future: Health Equity Considerations During COVID-19” hosted May 13 by The Community Foundation, Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the inequality and health disparities that exist for seniors, people of color and other vulnerable populations. The webinar highlighted effective public policy practices that arise from an equity lens and detailed actions nonprofit organizations can take during the COVID-19 crisis to support better outcomes for the most at-risk populations in Richmond.
Presenters were Steve Woolf, M.D., M.P.H, director emeritus of the VCU Center on Society and Health and professor of family medicine and population health; Marcie Wright, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor and director of research support services for the VCU Center on Health Disparities; and Nakeina Douglas-Glenn, Ph.D., director of the VCU Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute and assistant professor in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.
Wright kicked off the webinar with a discussion on equality vs. equity and the social determinants of health, including socioeconomic factors, physical environment, health behaviors and access to quality healthcare. She cited data from the Virginia Department of Health showing that African Americans in Henrico County make up more than 48 percent of COVID-19 cases.
“It’s not surprising that some of Virginia’s COVID hotspots are also our most vulnerable communities,” Wright said. “COVID is a magnifying glass that has highlighted the larger pandemic of health inequality.”
Douglas-Glenn introduced the concept of a window of opportunity to take equity action to address the disparity. She said COVID-19 has exposed systemic barriers that exist in U.S. policy, showing that our shared values of equality, democracy, civility, access and truth have not been universally attainable.
Woolf highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic is a “new example of an old problem,” showing data of life expectancy rates in the greater Richmond metro area varied by 20 years, based solely on zip code – or “short distances to large gaps in health.” He said that applying an equity lens to the crisis means putting marginalized populations at the forefront of the pandemic response and recovery plans.
A question and answer and discussion period followed, where members of the nonprofit community touched on topics relating to how Richmond leaders can begin taking action on these issues immediately, how organizations can provide culturally competent information and how to best coordinate efforts.
The VCU Center on Health Disparities is starting to develop materials that are more culturally competent to help equip people at all levels – and especially those serving the community directly – to understand what an equity lens looks like in their work.