Experts from Johns Hopkins brief state legislators about health disparities during COVID-19

Beth Blauer, Sherita Hill Golden, and Deidra Crews join State Affairs team of Johns Hopkins Office of Government and Community Affairs for briefings with lawmakers

In mid-May, a team of experts from Johns Hopkins briefed members of the Maryland General Assembly on the disparate health outcomes for racial minorities and vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. The team discussed strategies to address the problem.

Organized by the State Affairs team of the Johns Hopkins Office of Government and Community Affairs, the briefing featured Johns Hopkins experts whose research focuses on health disparities. The virtual audience included about 40 members of the General Assembly's Legislative Black Caucus, Legislative Latino Caucus, and Asian-American and Pacific-Islander Caucus.

The presenters were:

  • Beth Blauer, executive director of the Center for Government Excellence, who discussed the disproportionate rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths attributed to the disease among racial minorities, especially Latino and African-American populations.
  • Sherita Hill Golden, professor of medicine and vice president and chief diversity officer for Johns Hopkins Medicine. Golden discussed the legacy of systemic racism in the American health care system and how policymakers, health care providers, and community organizations together can protect at-risk populations.
  • Deidra Crews, associate professor of medicine and associate director for research development at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity. Crews discussed how the conditions of the coronavirus outbreak have magnified the barriers to health care experienced by vulnerable populations such as racial minorities, low-income individuals, the homeless, and incarcerated people.

The presentations were part of an effort by the State Affairs team to facilitate briefings for policymakers from across Maryland on issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. The presenters have since been invited to further discuss the issues with legislators, and to participate on a panel in a town hall event on racial health disparities.

Elizabeth Hafey, the assistant director of state affairs at Johns Hopkins, moderated the event. She says it is immensely gratifying to see experts engaging with policymakers and building relationships while combating such a scourge as health disparities.

"Johns Hopkins has been a national and international leader on this COVID-19 pandemic response, and tackling health disparities and inequities remains a significant aspect of these efforts," Hafey says. "This pandemic has further illuminated the vulnerabilities of communities of color, and these efforts are even more pressing now during these challenging times."

As a result of the briefings, Golden has been approached to help draft legislation.

"COVID-19 does not discriminate based on race, but many human institutions, historically, have," Golden says. "Every day, biases in our health system are contributing to poorer health outcomes for African-American, LatinX, and Native American people, and it's essential that our policymakers understand the scope of the problem and the urgency with which it must be addressed."