Providence to spend $50M to reduce health disparities, starting with COVID-19 care gaps

Washington-based health system Providence St. Joseph Health launched a $50 million investment over the next five years into reducing racial disparities in healthcare.

The initiative, announced Tuesday, will start by focusing on disparities that have been exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Existing health disparities are being amplified and exacerbated by the pandemic, so it is critical that we take immediate steps to support minority populations who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” said Rhonda Medows, M.D., Providence’s president of population health, in a statement.

The initial work will focus on outreach and education as well as increasing the testing supplies for COVID-19, for marginalized populations.

Providence also hopes to ensure equitable distribution of treatment and a vaccine for the virus when it becomes available, officials said.

The 51-hospital system said it will leverage its existing system and regional tools to partner with communities.

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“A crucial component of this effort is listening to and partnering with our communities to understand the structural and cultural barriers at the local level,” Providence President and CEO Rod Hochman, M.D., said in a statement.

The investment comes as the pandemic has had an inordinate impact on minorities.

Providence participated in a study that looked at COVID-19 cases that occurred in the system from February through April. The study found African Americans, Asians and Latinos had a higher risk of COVID-19 infection. Other groups at high risk were patients in low-income neighborhoods and had housing issues.

The risk is higher among “already affected by health disparities across age, race, ethnicity, language, income, and living conditions,” the study published in the International Journal for Equity in Health found.