IBLC urges governor to adopt measures to aid African American Hoosiers amid COVID-19 pandemic
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (IBLC) Chair Robin Shackleford (D-Indianapolis) today sent a letter to Governor Holcomb urging him to adopt eight different recommendations to aid in the racial disparity seen in recent data. According to the state's newly released COVID-19 patient data report, African American Hoosiers are suffering significantly from this pandemic.
The text of the letter is pasted below:
April 14, 2020
Dear Governor Holcomb,
We would like to thank you for releasing the data on racial disparities within the COVID-19 public health crisis. We would also like to commend your perseverance during this time of need. We support the collective efforts of you and legislators all over the country.
Today, the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus hosted a press call with the media on COVID-19 to discuss the data released and to provide solutions on behalf of Black Hoosiers throughout Indiana. Listed below is a review of the problem, causes and recommendations. It is our hope that you would review the recommendations, discuss them with your administration and agree to a virtual meeting with the IBLC to work through this crisis.
Again, we appreciate your response to our previous letter and we hope to leave the lines of communication open. It is integral that in the days moving forward, we have a comprehensive action plan for the application of our recommendations. Even though these disparities have now been highlighted, we fear that no steps will be taken to prevent further harm during the ongoing crisis..
Please know the IBLC is committed to helping in implementing these changes and any future collaboration that could benefit our community. Feel free to contact our Executive Director, RaeVen Ridgell, at 317-232-9827 or [email protected] to follow up to our meeting request. Thank you in advance for your consideration of these recommendations.
Review of the Problem
- According to the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH), African Americans are disproportionately affected by the Novel Coronavirus or COVID-19. Last week, the agency released data that shows African Americans, as 9.8 percent of Indiana's population, count as nearly 20 percent of deaths and positive cases.
Causes of the Problem
- There are many reasons contributing to these numbers including, but not limited to: lack of quality healthcare access, lack of health insurance, prior chronic health conditions, socioeconomic/poverty issues, systemic racism, housing disparities, food/pharmacy deserts, environmental challenges and an overall greater chance of African Americans as essential workers serving the front lines of this crisis.
- Additionally, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has shown that black people are overrepresented compared to the overall population in the hospitality industry (food service, retail/grocery), as drivers, and in the hotel industry. These are considered essential jobs, therefore leaving African Americans at greater risk.
- There is a strong distrust between African Americans and our healthcare system due to implicit bias and mistreatment.
- Traditionally, people of color face disparities in terms of morbidity, mortality, and health status overall
- Patients of color experience longer wait times, less rights when it comes to family visitation and lesser treatment plans that include lack of diagnostic testing and/or failure to administer medicine.
- Some have often reported a condescending tone from medical staff when seeking care.
- Environmental and Housing disparities include but are not limited to; poor building conditions, congested quarters, and redlining have led to disparaging health conditions and lack of resources have made it difficult to leave said spaces. Indiana suffers in providing adequate rights to tenants forcing them into horrid living circumstances.
- Unfortunately, these issues are cyclical, and a colorblind approach cannot bring about equity when both the healthcare system and the structural conditions that inform it are so unequal. Focusing on the most oppressed and vulnerable among us creates a pathway toward health equity that will help all Hoosiers beat this pandemic. The IBLC is offering some policy recommendations to help reduce the likelihood of exposure, contraction and deaths from COVID19 for African Americans.
Health Disparity Task Force
- Establish a Task Force to address the COVID19 Racial Disparities and draft a Corrective Action Plan (include IBLC members, African American health providers/health advocacy groups/patients, hospitals, insurance providers and county health departments with large African American clients) due by June 30th, 2020.
- Include a plan to address the prison population and juvenile detention centers.
Testing and Triage Centers Placed in Black Neighborhoods
- African Americans must be tested and provided treatment quicker. When this population is sick, we must stop sending them home alone to take an irregular public transit system and with no resources to purchase the medication they need.
- Predominantly Black churches, community health centers and federally qualified health centers may be ideal locations. These organizations can help to overcome trust issues related to healthcare and continue to be beacons of hope.
Essential Workers Need Paid Leave and Hazard Pay
- Low-wage workers are not only contracting the virus at higher rates but they are exposing others because they come to work sick and go home sick. Most cannot afford to miss a day at work. Implementing paid leave will help essential workers seek the medical care they deserve and reduce the potential spread of the virus.
- Hazard pay is needed for new “essential” frontline workers. The U.S. Department of Labor states:”Hazard pay means additional pay for performing hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship.”
Collect/Release/Analyze Demographic Data
- Encourage ISDH to collect data on race, place, gender and age on an ongoing basis for all major health diseases, chronic illnesses and deaths. Reach out to other states for best practices, like Ohio, where Blacks are less likely than their percentage of the state to die from COVID-19.
Provide a Living Wage and PPE for Essential Workers
- The minimum wage in Indiana is $7.25/hour with a 40-hour workweek that is $1,160/month before taxes. The average rent in Indiana for a one bedroom is $525/month & two-bedroom $1,702/month, equaling 45% of a minimum wage worker's monthly wage. This is 15 percent more than the rule of thumb that housing costs should be about 30 percent of a worker's monthly income. The problem is that the minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation. The newly named “essential” workers need a living wage.
- Require employers to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or a protected workspace for essential workers.
Outreach Campaign Geared Toward African Americans
- Create an outreach campaign, including African American print/radio/social media to help spread the word to stay at home, seek medical care early, practice respiratory hygiene, and discuss preexisting conditions that can put African Americans at a higher risk and social distance.
- IDOA’s Supplier Diversity should create an outreach plan for Minority Business Enterprises to assist with accessing COVID19 funds.
Increase Funding for Public Health
- African Americans have a higher rate of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart and kidney diseases, and obesity; treatment for these health diseases need to be increased to help combat existing and new health disparities.
- Increase funding for the CHOICE program. Many African American seniors stay at home with family or by themselves vs being admitted to a long-term care facility. These seniors need wait-listed resources that the CHOICE program provide, including transportation to/from dialysis, doctor appointments and groceries.
Anti-Racism Training for Health Workers
- There must be a commitment to having people understand racism as a root cause of racial health disparities IDSH should sponsor and encourage diversity, anti-bias and anti-racism training led by ISDH and community people.
- Work with IBLC on legislation to Declare Racism as a Public Health Crisis, such as was done in Wisconsin.