Nurses urge rapid implementation of recommendations by President Biden’s Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force
RNs call on Biden administration and Congress to take action to end the pandemic, address structural racism, and prevent future pandemics
National Nurses United (NNU), the nation’s largest union and professional association of registered nurses, praised President Biden’s Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force, which today released its final report 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 life-saving 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 long-standing 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 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.
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, and enacting legislation and regulations with sufficient and sustainable funding that provide health care access and coverage for all;
- 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;
- funding solutions to curtail hospital and health facility closures;
- funding the development of a racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse and representative health workforce across all fields and increasing the number of licensed health care professionals that are people of color or from underserved communities through scholarship, loan forgiveness, and other programs;
- fully funding the Indian Health Service as recommended by the IHS budget formulation committee and ensuring that IHS funding is increased to match the U.S. National Health Expenditure per person annual spending rate;
- 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.
Supporting healthy communities and addressing root causes of health disparity by:
- establishing a permanent low-income utility assistance program to ensure access to clean water and sanitation, instituting a moratorium on water and utility shut-offs during pandemics, and developing and modifying stronger water, sewage, and air quality standards.
Investing in workers and working families, with a focus on communities of color and other underserved populations hit hardest by Covid-19, by:
- creating jobs with family-sustaining wages and benefits;
- developing mechanisms to protect and empower workers in the workplace; and
- investing in childcare and early learning.
Addressing pandemic-fueled xenophobia, violence, and discrimination by:
- enforcing anti-discrimination protections for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander health care workers to address the rise of xenophobia against these groups during the pandemic;
- supporting education about Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and other communities facing xenophobia and discrimination in schools and postsecondary education;
- improving the collection and sharing of data related to xenophobia, discrimination, and hate crimes to improve transparency and ability to respond to rising violence against Asian Americans and other groups.
Redressing decades of neglect and defunding to rebuild a robust public health system and establish a strong pandemic preparedness and response system by:
- creating a definitive pandemic response authority for public health emergency, pandemic, and disaster response centered on equity;
- increasing and sustaining funding for equity-centered pandemic and public health emergency activities and infrastructure at the federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial levels;
- mobilizing all levels of government to prioritize vaccine distribution, testing, treatment, and personal protective equipment access to communities of color and other underserved populations;
- creating accessible distribution locations, transportation, and communication campaigns tailored to specific groups (e g., young adults, veterans, people with disabilities, rural communities) in multiple languages;
- supporting people experiencing homelessness by funding medical respite programs, extending shelter hours, minimizing barriers to care, improving quarantine capabilities, increasing shelter capacity; and
- building a strong public health infrastructure and workforce dedicated to public health emergency preparedness, response, recovery, and disaster-related behavioral health services to support communities with the greatest health care inequities with sustained, long-term funding.
“Nurses commend the task force for addressing the severe inequities created by our country’s for-profit health care system and weak system of social support,” said Burger. “We know that rebuilding public health to address the needs of communities who were hit first and worst by the pandemic will benefit all people living in this country. 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.”
National Nurses United is the largest and fastest-growing union of registered nurses in the United States with more than 175,000 members nationwide.