In this story:


  • Health equity means that everyone has the opportunity to attain their highest level of health and wellness. Equal access to a select health service alone is not adequate when other barriers or resource inequities hinder outcomes.
  • Providence is investing $50 million to resolve disparities and achieve health equity.
  • Providence is making a long-term commitment to integrating health equity into its daily work and incorporating it into its system-wide strategic and financial plan.

Life has changed dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic began. For some, these changes have been exacerbated by the recession, rising unemployment, existing social challenges and injustices. This is especially true for ethnic minority communities.

In an interview with Los Angeles-based news director Chris Little, Dr. Rhonda Medows, MD, FAAFP, president of Population Health at Providence, talked about the real impact COVID-19 has had on Hispanics, Black Americans and Native Americans. Read on for key insights and solutions proposed by Dr. Medows or watch the video.   

Addressing Racial Disparities in Health


Dr. Medows points out that people of color tend to have higher rates of both infections and deaths from COVID-19, and higher mortality from other diseases, too. Although Black women and white women get breast cancer at about the same rate, black women die from breast cancer at a 40% higher rate than white women.

Also, people of color in less advantaged communities have been the hardest hit during the pandemic with unemployment, loss of insurance and the economic recession overall. The combination of losses from the pandemic, recession, and long-standing systemic racism contributed to a tinderbox set alight by recent hate crimes, leading to social unrest.

So how do we effectively deal with these racial disparities in health? Dr. Medows offers a five-point plan to address health disparities amplified by COVID-19 as one place to start:

  1. Move beyond research and “admiring the problem.” Use the data and information we have to inform our strategy and act. Do the hard work of community outreach, educating the people most impacted, providing better care and facilitating connection to health services. 
  2. Ensure that COVID-19 testing is provided in local communities with high numbers of people of color who have greater risk.
  3. Connect people with health care and services including access via telehealth, Telepsych and digital health services.
  4. As medications are identified that can treat COVID-19, ensure they are provided equitably and available to everyone in need.
  5. Prioritize COVID-19 vaccine distribution to people at highest risk for illness and death, and especially people of color who we know are disproportionately impacted. High-priority groups also include frontline workers and frail elders in nursing homes. 

Actions That Can Help


Providence is investing $50 million in dedicated funds to resolve disparities and achieve health equity. The company is making a long-term commitment to integrating health equity into its daily work and incorporating it into its health system-wide strategic and financial plan.

“We’re asking our teams in local communities and businesses to focus on not just studying health disparities, but on implementing actual interventions that will help people by resolving health disparity and inequities,” says Dr. Medows.

The Curse of Systemic Racism


Systemic racism is long-standing, spanning hundreds of years. Health disparities have been researched and studied for decades and continue to increase.

Dr. Medows highlights the importance of moving forward with definitive actions to achieve health equity. It is helpful to start with everyone having a common understanding of several key concepts:

  • Health equity means that everyone has the opportunity to attain their highest level of health and wellness. Equal access to a select health service alone is not adequate when other barriers or resource inequities hinder outcomes.
  • Health disparities refer to an avoidable higher burden of illness, injury, violence, disability, or mortality experienced by one group relative to another.
  • Social determinants of health are the conditions under which people live, work, learn and play that may impact their health—for example poverty, homelessness, food deserts, etc.

 Moreover, she points out medical professionals need to be more cognizant of the implicit racial bias they have that can impact the care provided. To help educate and drive action, she says Providence has created a separate, dedicated workgroup reevaluating and assessing diversity and inclusion in the workforce.

The Importance of Housing


Providence believes housing is health. “If you don’t have a place to sleep and live in a safe, clean, warm environment, it’s difficult to take care of your health and manage chronic conditions like diabetes,” says Dr. Medows.

Providence is a long-time provider of transitional and low-income housing managed by its Home and Community Services business in multiple states. To help address the issue of homelessness, Providence looks across its seven-state system to find ways to help provide shelter and care to those experiencing houselessness.


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