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Mayor, health officials concerned about disparities amid COVID-19

"If we don't put that same emphasis on solving those barriers as we did with COVID we're not doing what we need to do to stop those disparities."

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Health disparities remain at the forefront of the conversation surrounding COVID-19 as Jefferson County health experts believe numbers are trending downward.

Mayor Greg Fischer and health professionals shared concerns and solutions to helping alleviate the problem while addressing racial equity and heath during his weekly address.

“Even before the pandemic arrived in Louisville, our city has long worked to understand the tragedy of racial health disparities,” Mayor Fischer said. “So, we went into the fight against COVID-19 with high awareness of the issue and knowing that the difference in life expectancy for Louisvillians who live near Shawnee Park in the west part of town is about 12 years fewer than Louisvillians who live by Tom Sawyer Park.”

Dr. Edward Miller, chief diversity officer for UofL Health, said health professionals can learn when something like COVID-19 affects the community, it rises to the challenge to take care of it.

“We have so many health care disparities with pre-term birth, cancer rates in populations, hypertension, diabetes,” Dr. Miller said. “I think what we have to learn is if we don’t put that same emphasis on solving those barriers as we did with COVID, we’re not doing what we need to do to stop those disparities.”

Fischer believes building racial equity requires intentionality and said efforts have been intentional throughout the pandemic.

“As vaccinations became more widely available early last year, we created a diverse vaccine distribution task force to coordinate and facilitate the implementation, communication, administration and reporting vaccinations in the city with a focus on equity,” he said. “In other words, putting vaccines where they were most needed in the community, to those that were the highest at risk.”

Health disparities have long been an issue for Black and Brown communities. Although health experts say Louisville is addressing the problems, experts are calling on more health care professionals that look like their patients to be in those spaces.

"In Louisville I think we're doing a pretty good job, but there is still a lot of work to be done," Delanor Manson, CEO of the Kentucky Nurses Association, said. "Kentucky, we only have about four percent of the nurses are African American, and we are eight percent of the population. And so again there is an opportunity to recruit.

Manson also worked with the vaccine distribution task force and said it has been “the lifeblood” of ensuring vaccines and testing gets to the community.

Throughout the pandemic, the health care systems in Jefferson County have held clinics or testing sites to underserved areas with the help of Jefferson County Public Schools, community outreach and churches.

The city isn’t slowing down their efforts. They have received a $4.2 million health disparities grant and plans to extend its community policies and outreach, data and research.

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