« Health Innovation Highlights: June 11, 2020 Issue

Full Edition


Fighting Diseases, New and Old

Photo Credit: Maxar Technologies, Black Lives Matter Plaza NW, Washington, D.C., as seen from space

Ann Hwang, MD
Director, Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation

Like many of you, in these turbulent times we at the Center have cycled through feelings of heartbreak, anger, hopelessness, fear and determination, as our nation confronts the twin scourges of COVID-19 and racism – both infectious and deadly diseases. Both continue to inflict dramatically disproportionate harm upon Black people in the United States.

In our work, we seek to build the power of consumers and communities to ensure that policies and practices improve health and health equity. Yet we see more clearly than ever how over many decades, policies have underinvested in health, undermined economic security and perpetuated racism. The events of the past weeks and months have brought into focus how far we have to go, and how important it is to continue the fight.

Community Catalyst Executive Director Emily Stewart noted, “As an organization committed to health for all people, we seek ways to strengthen our resolve and commitment to justice; to fight alongside our partners and allies; and to amplify and support the voices and leadership of those most affected by systemic racism and oppression.” Please see our organization’s statement and resources for state and local action.

In this month’s Health Innovation Highlights, we share a few perspectives that we hope will provoke reflection and inspire action. In The Washington Post, Harvard School of Public Health Dean Michelle A. Williams and former Massachusetts State Representative Jeffrey Sánchez sound this call to action: “It is time to face this immutable fact: Systemic racism has had its knee on the neck of the African American community since America began. And all of us have a responsibility to acknowledge it and address it.” And, in a Health Affairs blog post, Editor-In-Chief Alan Weil calls the question of whether the health care system will address the fundamental imbalance of power that underlies the “social determinants of death,” writing, “It is not enough for health care institutions to stand against racism or with those who protest it. The test of the day is whether those institutions will use their power to fight racism. Will they cede wealth and power accumulated over decades to those who have been excluded? Will they engage in meaningful dialogue designed to break down barriers to a well-functioning society –one in which people engage in authentic relationships and learn of their shared humanity?”

We also recognize that June is Pride month, a time to celebrate the strength and activism of the LGBTQ+ community, and a time to remind ourselves of the powerful intersections in the fight for justice – the intersections between the fight against homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, sexism and racism. Sadly, the movement lost one of its most powerful warriors for intersectionality, Stacey Park Milbern, a prominent advocate for disability justice who pushed the disability rights movement to become more inclusive of people of color and nontraditional gender identities.

In that spirit, we share our video, produced in collaboration with SAGE. While this video was made well before the pandemic began taking its disproportionate toll on older people, we can’t help but think of the extra added burden COVID-19 has brought to this community that has experienced decades of stigma, rejection and fear. 

Finally, on a personal note, as many of you know, over the past three months I’ve been home with my newborn daughter. As I watch her grow and learn, and revel in her newfound smile and laughter, I am struck by the contrast between the simplicity of her joy and love, and the complicated world that awaits her outside. I find hope in Nelson Mandela’s words in Long Walk to Freedom: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”


Envisioning Health Equity and Justice Beyond COVID-19

"The coronavirus has laid bare what was already broken in America. Racism, poverty, mass incarceration – these injustices have existed for a long time… While COVID-19 does not discriminate, racist and unequal systems do."

With the inequities COVID-19 is exposing so plainly evident, we are at a unique and critical moment to step up our advocacy and put in place just policies to protect our most vulnerable communities. A May blog post by the Center's Consumer and Community Engagement Advisor Myriam Hernandez Jennings offers hope and insight from lessons learned by our partners who work to bridge health and racial justice inequities as part of their regular work so that communities emerge more empowered.

Center for Health Progress Advocate Appointed to Colorado Governor's Health Equity Response Team

Center partners at Colorado's Center for Health Progress have adapted their work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic by implementing a successful phone tree model, establishing an immigrant relief fund, and successfully advocating for the expansion of Emergency Medicaid to cover COVID-19 testing and treatment for uninsured Coloradans. They continue to be a source for reporters  around the equity implications of the pandemic.

Additionally, Deputy Director Maggie Gómez was appointed to the governor’s COVID-19 Health Equity Response Team for the state of Colorado. The team is working to take action around Emergency Services & Aid, Workers’ Rights & Protections, Communications & Outreach, and Access to Testing. They are exploring public health orders, executive orders, state legislation and some federal advocacy as possible policy levers to stop the growth of unjust health outcomes as a result of COVID-19.

Report Highlights Hardships and Risks to Direct Care LTSS Workers Amidst Pandemic 

An estimated 3.5 million direct care staff – disproportionately from communities of color – work mainly in people’s homes, and during this pandemic their services are more critical than ever to allow the most highly at risk people to receive needed care at home. Center Research Director Marc Cohen co-authored an article published in the Journal of Aging and Social Policy, which highlights the issues facing direct care LTSS workers. Often they have no or inadequate health insurance and almost half earn less than a living wage, despite substantial qualifications to perform their work. As well, more than half are parents, so contracting an infection also puts their families at risk. The report provides data about the demographics and economics of direct care work and recommendations to protect the work force long term.


Public Health Voices: “Racism is Killing Black People. It’s Sickening Them, Too.”

In a Washington Post opinion piece, epidemiologist Michelle A. Williams and former Massachusetts state representative Jeffrey Sánchez call attention to the public health crisis of racism. As the article notes, structural racism underlies all of the health inequities Black Americans disproportionately experience. The authors put it aptly: “It is time to face this immutable fact: Systemic racism has had its knee on the neck of the African American community since America began. And all of us have a responsibility to acknowledge it and address it.”

Roxane Gay also discusses this reality in a powerful New York Times column. As Black Americans weather the dual public health crises of COVID-19 and systemic racism, “We live with the knowledge that, still, no one is coming to save us. The rest of the world yearns to get back to normal. For black people, normal is the very thing from which we yearn to be free.”

Health Affairs blog: The Social Determinants of Death

Health Affairs Editor-In-Chief Alan Weil’s latest blog post highlights how political and economic policies contribute to the premature death of people of color. Weil notes the historical complicity of medicine in racism and how this legacy continues in our institutions, thinking and policies. Weil challenges health care institutions to not just stand against racism, but to use their power to fight racism, and questions whether institutions will cede their accumulated wealth and power to those who have been traditionally excluded.

Two APHA Webinar Series: The Impact of Racism and Advancing Health Equity

This week, the American Public Health Association (APHA) kicked off an important new webinar series, Advancing Racial Equity. The first webinar, Racism: The Ultimate Underlying Condition, examined racism and its historic and present-day impact on health and well-being. Presenters identified the multiple levels on which racism operates, described the physiological impacts of racism and discrimination on health and explored the principles for and barriers to achieving health equity. The APHA also has made available four webinars from its 2015 series, The Impact of Racism on the Health and Well-Being of the Nation. The organization recommends that viewers watch this series, which provides a foundation on racism as a public health issue, before viewing the Advancing Racial Equity series.



In April, Gov. Whitmer announced the creation of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. The task force, chaired by Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II, consists of leaders across state government and health care professionals from communities most impacted by the spread of coronavirus. The task force responds to the disproportionate impact of COVI-19 on African-American Michiganders and will provide the governor with recommendations on how to address this disparity.

North Carolina

On June 4, Gov.Cooper signed Executive Order 143 to address the social, environmental, economic, and health disparities in communities of color that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Order establishes the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force whose mission is to create economic stability, eliminate health disparities, and achieve environmental justice in North Carolina by convening testimony, identifying best practices, and reporting this information to the Office of the Governor. It also directs state agencies and offices to provide targeted measures to help communities of color that have been affected by the pandemic.


This month, the Washington State Department of Health will issue contracts to “community-based, community-rooted, and community-led organizations” to provide emergency COVID-19 language and outreach services, and to make sure messaging is culturally relevant and linguistically appropriate.


Friday, June 19 (3-5 pm Eastern) - Webinar: Racism and Our Families' Health: Connecting the Dots (Part 1), presented by Bronx Health REACH. Please register for the webinar.

Friday, June 26 (3-5 pm Eastern) - Webinar: Racism and Our Families' Health: Connecting the Dots (Part 2), presented by Bronx Health REACH. Please register

Tuesay, June 30 (3-4 pm Eastern) - Webinar: The Fierce Urgency of Now: Federal and State Policy Recommendations to Address COVID-19 Health Inequities, presented by the National Urban League in collaboration with FamiliesUSA. Please register for the webinar.