Addressing healthcare disparities

Dr. Mary Bassett, MD, MPH and NYC’s Commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene, delivered the keynote address on Monday, highlighting racial and income disparities in healthcare. She used data from New York City to link patient care and outcomes to zip codes and particular communities. As she related, patients zip codes say more about their likely health outcomes than their DNA and are an indicator of life expectancy itself.

Residents on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, for example, can expect to live an average of 85 years, while those living in zip codes less than a mile away live on average just 76 years.

Dr. Bassett’s data, taken from federal sources and shared with nurses at the Biennial, revealed that in the year 2000 over 375,000 of those who died prematurely were people of color and those in official poverty. In fact, the latest data show that black babies die at twice the rate of white babies. Heart disease and cancer are the two biggest killers in the U.S. for all people. For people of color the death rates for these diseases are higher.

Dr. Bassett stressed that nurses have a crucial role to play in reversing these trends. With Bassett’s conclusions, supported by her data, nurses learned more about the impact of racism on health. It is her hope that RNs and other healthcare professionals can better advocate for more effective and comprehensive approaches to public health nursing and overall healthcare delivery.

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