Below is the text of the op-ed by Alliance chair Juana Slade that was printed in the Greenville News and the Anderson Independent-Mail.
As an administrative leader at one of South Carolina’s hospital systems, I am humbled and inspired by the brave frontline health care workers across our state who continue to care for patients every day in the face of COVID-19. They are the true heroes of this pandemic.
I’m honored to support them as chief diversity officer and director of diversity and language services at AnMed Health, a role that has provided me with a unique perspective on how this virus is disproportionately impacting communities of color.
It has been reported in areas across the country and recognized by the U.S. Surgeon General that African American and Hispanic/Latin communities have been hit especially hard by COVID-19. And South Carolina is no different.
While the African American population makes up just 27% of our state and 36% of confirmed cases, 57% of South Carolina’s deaths from COVID-19 have been African American. This statistic speaks specifically to the health status that often persists in marginalized racial and ethnic minority communities and serves as a stark reminder of the health inequities that we must work together to address.
For me, conversations that have been brought to light about racial health disparities in the wake of COVID-19 are nothing new. As a member and now chair of the Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina, I know that this virus is only holding up a mirror to inequities that have existed in our state for far too long.
From 2010-2013, a diverse cross-sector group of state leaders came together to address social determinants that often result in higher health care costs and worse outcomes for vulnerable communities. In 2014, the Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina was officially established as the nation’s first public-private partnership dedicated to coordinating action on shared goals for all people in the state.
In 2020 we’ve doubled-down on our commitment to addressing racial and socioeconomic health disparities by releasing South Carolina’s first health equity action plan. This five-year road map provides collaborative strategies to build awareness of the root causes of health inequities and to support systemic policy changes that remove barriers to health for our most vulnerable citizens.
The Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina is a based on a “collective impact” model that recognizes that no single organization has the ability to solve any major social problem at scale by itself. That’s why we applaud and support recent efforts by Rep. Rosalyn Henderson-Myers and other legislative leaders who are requesting that the state establish a Minority Health Task Force so that we can work together to improve health and well-being in our minority communities.
While COVID-19 will continue to be a trove of lessons learned for health care providers and countless other industries, we cannot overlook what the data are telling us about how this virus disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable South Carolinians – and how it exposes racial and socioeconomic health disparities that have long impacted our state.
The Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina is committed to advancing health equity and is ready to partner with state leaders on a plan to make it happen.
Juana Slade is chief diversity officer and director of diversity and language services at AnMed Health and 2020 chair of the Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina.