During public health crises, equity should be central to solutions

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to sweep across the globe, we are witnessing its tremendous impact internationally, nationally, and locally. Prohibitions on travel from certain countries, state of emergency proclamations by state and local governments, universities moving to online courses, and major entertainment and sporting events are shutting its doors to the public. With no vaccine or cure in sight, we are left with many questions and few answers.

Public health crises such as COVID-19 remind us we are only as safe as our community members who are most at risk. The elderly, disabled, and those with underlying health conditions are who we hear most about, but equally important is advocating for communities disproportionately affected by socioeconomic complexity, like low-wage workers, people of color, immigrant communities, the homeless, and people living in close quarters such as public housing, nursing homes, jails, and shelters. 

For these populations, the COVID-19 pandemic elucidates the inequities that Health Forward Foundation is working to address. The health and economic ramifications could be severe and incalculable. Many low-wage workers, for example, do not have paid sick leave or paid family and medical leave, and therefore cannot afford to stay home if they or a loved one becomes sick and requires quarantine or isolation.

While the science suggests that children are not as susceptible to the virus, they are not immune to the effects of school closures. For millions of our children, school is the one place where they know they will be able to eat. In Kansas City, 1 in 8 people are food insecure, including 50,000 children. The removal of a dependable food source for children is devastating for these households. 

Emergency, affordable childcare is not readily available, and, when schools close unexpectedly, it creates desperate situations for parents who are already stretched too thin. Parents who do not have the luxury of paid leave must choose between a paycheck or staying home to care for children who are not in school. 

All of these situations create further tensions for families living in poverty. The same individuals may delay or not seek medical care because they are uninsured and lack the financial means to access health care, to take time off to care for self or family, and more.  

We are blessed to live in a region with so many caring and knowledgeable organizations who work every day to address these inequities and provide quality health care for those most in need. However, when a public health crisis threatens the region, we know it creates more work for our partners and puts even more stress on the budgets and staff of safety-net health care providers.

At Health Forward, we are deeply committed to ensuring our grantees, partners, and staff are equipped to stay healthy and can provide services during this rapidly evolving public health threat. We recognize these are challenging times for our partners, and as we monitor the situation, we are assessing how we may be able to support our safety net providers as they grapple with delivering services to a larger number of clients. 

We encourage all levels of government to consider that every protective measure considered and implemented be equity-centered. We must not forget even a single person.


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Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006