Promoting Racial Justice in Aging Services

Conversations with Katie | June 10, 2020

Almost one-third of COVID-19 infections nationwide have affected black Americans. News articles use words like “extraordinary,” “disproportionate,” and “cataclysmic” to describe the supporting data.

But is it news?

Racism is not new. It has plagued our nation for 400 years. And the never-ending inequalities have carried that plague from generation to generation.

The coronavirus pandemic and the killing of George Floyd have forced us to look hard at what racism is doing to people of color in cities and towns across our country. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that “New York City identified death rates among black/African American persons (92.3 deaths per 100,000 population) and Hispanic/Latino persons (74.3) that were substantially higher than that of white (45.2) or Asian (34.5) persons.”

The CDC report explained how living conditions in communities of color “may contribute to underlying health conditions and make it difficult to follow steps to prevent getting sick with COVID-19 or to seek treatment if they do get sick.” CDC then listed several insidious factors that led to the disproportionate number of cases and deaths. Among them are:

  • Members of racial and ethnic minorities may be more likely to live in densely populated areas because of institutional racism in the form of residential housing segregation.
  • Racial residential segregation is linked with a variety of adverse health outcomes and underlying health conditions.
  • Many racial and ethnic minorities live in neighborhoods that are farther from grocery stores and medical facilities, making it more difficult for residents to receive care during times of illness and to stock up on supplies that would allow them to shelter in place.

LeadingAge members know first-hand that those who are black or brown make up more than three-fifths (59%) of our direct care workforce. Together with those who are black or brown and are receiving long-term services and supports, these workers are affected disproportionately by COVID-19.

We may not be able to correct the underlying causes of these COVID-related disparities, but we ought to do more than wring our hands. We can act alone or in concert with others. But act we must. Our moral leadership in the communities we serve is absolutely vital to ending 2 inseparable, heartless pandemics: the COVID-19 pandemic and our pandemic of racism.

In our own LeadingAge communities, we can address an obvious disparity among our workforce: lack of access to the key social determinants of health, including a living wage, nutritious food, affordable housing, health care, sick leave, transportation, and education.

We need to ensure — now rather than later — that all direct care workers, including workers of color, have access to better training, fair pay and benefits, chances for career advancement and leadership development, and the assurance that we will do everything possible to make sure they can fulfill their dreams for themselves and their families.

Let us act now to promote racial justice. For only brave, bold, decisive, and sustained action can defeat the twin, yet inseparable, pandemics facing our nation.