A message from Joseph Betancourt, MD, MPH, and Joan Quinlan, MPA, leaders of the MGH Equity and Community Health COVID Response Team
COVID-19 clearly draws attention to the social, economic and racial disparities in health. In public health crises like this, history teaches us that vulnerable and disadvantaged populations suffer disproportionately. This crisis is no different.
Chelsea and surrounding towns have COVID-19 rates of infection surpassing New York City levels.
That is not acceptable. Improving the health of underserved communities is part of Massachusetts General Hospital’s mission. More than 200 years ago, our founders declared that, “when in distress, every man becomes our neighbor.” And with every generation, how we care for our neighbors continues to evolve. In 2020, Mass General has more than 38 programs and 200 partnerships that consider the social determinants of health — the non-medical factors that affect health, including access to food, housing, recreation and education. We have made an institution-wide commitment to addressing health disparities and achieving equity.
Greater Risks for COVID-19
COVID-19 is an especially serious problem for our neighbors who live with disparities that affect their health. Many people with low incomes are unable to physically distance. They endure crowded living conditions; hold jobs that cannot be performed remotely; and depend on public transportation. Underlying chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity that put people at greater risk for COVD-19, occur at higher rates in low-resourced communities.
Reducing Disparities is a Priority
As leaders of the MGH Equity and Community Health COVID Response Team, we take these inequities seriously. Our team reports directly to the hospital’s Incident Command Center. This means that health equity and community health concerns are part of Mass General’s leadership response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our efforts focus on ensuring that patient and employee interactions meet the needs of diverse and multilingual populations. About 35 percent of our coronavirus inpatients are Latino. This reflects a huge uptick from our usual 9 percent. Staff and outside contractors are providing interpretation for those in need. Another priority is to address the critical social challenges of our communities, especially in Chelsea and Revere.
Chelsea: A COVID-19 Hotspot
Chelsea and its surrounding towns are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 with rates of infection surpassing New York City levels. In early April, Mass General’s Chelsea Health Center opened a new Respiratory Infection Clinic (RIC) to evaluate patients with respiratory symptoms and determine if they can be treated safely in the outpatient setting. Testing is offered to residents with symptoms. Services are offered to Chelsea residents and those surrounding communities regardless of health insurance or immigration status. In one day, the RIC team saw nearly 200 people.
We are delivering “care kits” to households that include resources in English and Spanish, masks and supplies for hand washing along with information on creating an easy liquid cleaner. Some families are also getting food deliveries. This happens at specific areas where testing is done and via door-to-door distribution. Mass General is also providing 24/7 medical monitoring and mental health support at a local hotel for Chelsea and Revere residents who are COVID positive or presumptive who can’t isolate at home, so they can recover.
Your Support Makes a Difference
We are grateful for the generous support of donors worldwide. At the same time, we urgently need to do more for our communities in crisis. If you are in position to do so, we encourage you to donate to our Emergency Response Fund.
Here are a just few ways your donation matters — it supports interpreters, community health workers and food pantries at health centers and in the communities. It provides iPads and laptops for virtual visits that help patients with chronic diseases. It helps people with substance use disorders and mental health conditions get the resources they need during a time of social isolation.
In these critical times, every moment counts. Your gift will help those who need it most. Our deepest thanks to you.