Health News Roundup

A health system goes public with its shortfalls, and more in this week’s roundup

Children’s Minnesota tackles racial health disparities: ‘What gets measured, gets done’
Pam Louwagie, Star Tribune, June 8
At Children’s Minnesota, a pediatric health system, leaders have taken the unusual step of making their disparities and corrective efforts public. Researchers published a paper last year that highlighted a sampling of the system’s shortfalls, and are attempting novel and methodical ways to change them — a model that some health advocates hope others will follow. A work group analyzed more than 50 metrics to figure out where to concentrate efforts. Data showed a 20% difference in how often Black and white children were offered a set of pain-reducing strategies called a comfort promise — one of several racial disparities that existed. But after a change in medical assistant training and some new procedural norms, data a year later showed that disparity had been corrected. Now Children’s Minnesota is tackling other categories of disparity, a few at a time.
Related: A roadmap for advancing health equity through data, Connecticut Health Foundation, June 16

Undocumented immigrants become ‘permanent patients’ in hospitals
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas and Kasturi Pananjady, The Connecticut Mirror, June 15
Federal regulations require hospitals to provide life-sustaining treatment to uninsured undocumented immigrants who show up in the emergency department and to treat them until they can be discharged safely. In Connecticut, however, undocumented immigrants don’t have access to outpatient services or nursing home care if they require ongoing treatment. Maria, who is undocumented, has been stuck for six months at Yale New Haven Hospital, since a hospital is the only place she can access life-saving dialysis. Critics say the results of Connecticut’s policy are both costly and inhumane. At least 14 other states cover outpatient dialysis treatment, including Massachusetts and New York.

NIH releases a plan to confront structural racism. Critics say it’s not enough
Usha Lee McFarling, STAT, June 10
Saying structural racism is a chronic problem throughout biomedical research and within their own walls, leaders of the National Institutes of Health unveiled a plan intended to eliminate a big gap in grants awarded to white and minority scientists and boost funding for research on health disparities. “I talk about this being a tipping point. There really has been a significant change in viewpoint nationwide and in the scientific community,” said Marie Bernard, a leader of the new effort. “This is an unparalleled opportunity to make change.” Many who have been working to increase diversity in science said that they were happy to see NIH addressing racism, but that NIH leaders needed to do far more work.

Rural Black communities lose a lifeline in the COVID-19 pandemic
Olivia Goldhill, STAT, May 26
A record 19 rural hospitals closed in 2020 — more than in any other year. Communities close to these shuttered hospitals similarly experienced disproportionate fatalities, according to a STAT analysis: COVID-19 death rates in counties where hospitals closed were 37% higher than in their states overall. The communities affected when rural hospitals closed often have significant Black populations. “At every step in the pipeline, hospitals with a larger footprint in the African American community are more likely to shut,” said Mark Holmes, professor of health policy at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Collecting FEMA funeral money takes some tenacity – and help
Heidi de Marco, Kaiser Health News, June 16
A federal program offers funding to cover funeral expenses for people who died from COVID-19. But even when people know about the aid available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the process is daunting and the bureaucracy confusing. Latinos suffered disproportionate rates of COVID deaths, but for those with limited English skills, receiving the FEMA assistance can be especially difficult.