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COVID-19: Tackling Inequities and Disparities

Chelsea became a hotspot for COVID-19 cases and Mass General has been working with the community to respond.

Hospital News

COVID-19: Tackling Inequities and Disparities

As COVID-19 cases climb, disadvantaged populations suffer the worst. Learn how Mass General is reducing disparities and expanding access to care.

Mass General Giving
April 17, 2020

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.

Read more about how Mass General is helping communities:
Equity and Inclusion
Health Policy Advocates
Mass General Expands Chelsea Food Pantry
Giving Immigrants a Safe Place for Care

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.

Joseph Betancourt, MD, MPH, is the vice president and chief equity and inclusion officer of Massachusetts General Hospital, the founder, senior advisor and faculty of the Disparities Solutions Center at Mass General, Faculty at the Mongan Institute, an associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a practicing internal medicine physician.

Joan Quinlan, MPA, is the vice president for Community Health at Massachusetts General Hospital. Since 1995, she has led the hospital’s efforts to fully integrate community health into its four missions including patient care, teaching and research, and to work with local underserved communities to address challenging community-identified public health problems.