Nurses say implement Covid-19 pandemic equity task force recommendations
National Nurse Magazine - October | November | December 2021 Issue
National Nurses United praised President Biden’s Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force, which released its final report in November to the president addressing the deep structural inequities in our country that led to the Covid-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities and the rise of pandemic-fueled xenophobia and discrimination against Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.
The task force comprises 12 people appointed by President Biden last February, including Mary C. Turner, RN, NNU vice president and president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, an NNU affiliate.
The task force has deliberated since March to investigate and offer lifesaving recommendations to address health inequities caused or worsened by the pandemic. Not only have Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities experienced far more infections and deaths and seen a sharper drop in life expectancy than their share of the population, but they have also faced more severe economic consequences including job loss and reduced work hours, greater food insecurity, and higher rates of housing foreclosures and evictions. Many of the key recommendations in today’s report make headway toward redressing longstanding structural disparities including health care access, and job, food, and housing insecurity.
“We are so pleased that the report includes recommendations for repairing the broad-based racial and ethnic disparities pervasive in our country, including disparities in our profit-driven health care system, but also the larger environmental, economic, and social inequities that undermine health and well-being,” said Deborah Burger, RN, NNU president. “We strongly urge elected leaders at all levels of government to begin implementing the recommendations of the task force immediately.”
“As an ICU nurse on a Covid unit since the start of the pandemic, I am thrilled that the task force is calling for a permanent OSHA Covid-19 standard that includes protections against aerosol and airborne transmission for nurses and other workers,” said Mary Turner, the only frontline worker and registered nurse appointed to the task force. “I’ve seen too many workers die during this pandemic, and nurses of color have become infected and died at alarming rates. Nurses should never again have to fight for respiratory and other occupational health and safety protections. I am also proud of our recommendation to assess clinical practice guidelines and health-related algorithms for racial and other types of bias.”
Key recommendations in the final report welcomed by NNU include guaranteeing strong health and safety protections for workers by creating permanent OSHA standards for Covid-19 and other infectious diseases, and maintaining a robust federal stockpile of personal protective equipment and other essential supplies to distribute where they are needed most.
The task force also called for improving health care access for communities of color and underserved communities and taking steps toward creating a single standard of high quality care for all people by recognizing and establishing health care as a human right, regardless of immigration status, requiring Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and use the savings to reduce the Medicare eligibility age to 55 (including dental, vision, and hearing benefits in Medicare) and capping all Medicare out-of-pocket costs.
The task force recommended funding solutions to curtail hospital and health facility closures as well as funding the development of a diverse and representative health workforce across all fields and increasing the number of licensed health care professionals who are people of color or from underserved communities through scholarship, loan forgiveness, and other programs. It also recommended fully funding the Indian Health Service as recommended by the IHS budget formulation committee.
Additionally, the task force recommended ensuring equitable provider payment rates and parity between behavioral health and physical health payments across Medicare, Medicaid, and other government health insurance programs; federally funding, promoting, and applying practice-based research to eliminate structural and interpersonal racism and other forms of discrimination in health care systems that result in negative health impacts and health disparities; and assessing clinical practice guidelines, health-related algorithms, artificial intelligence, and health information technology for racial and other types of social and economic discrimination.
The task force also made recommendations to supporting healthy communities and address root causes of health disparity; to invest in workers and working families, with a focus on communities of color and other underserved populations hit hardest by Covid-19; to address pandemic-fueled xenophobia, violence, and discrimination; and to redress decades of neglect and defunding to rebuild a robust public health system and establish a strong pandemic preparedness and response system.
“We urge the Biden administration and Congress to rapidly implement the task force’s recommendations for urgently needed infrastructure that will benefit our patients and communities,” said Burger.