5 Slides Video: Addressing variation in health equity

From vaccine distribution to access to health care services, there are stark variations in health outcomes based on race, gender, and economic status. 

On Wednesday, June 2nd, State of Reform hosted three panelists from Washington State for a conversation on health equity and what we can do to address disparities. 

Joining the panel was Rep. My-Linh Thai, Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, Leanne Berge, CEO of Community Health Plan of Washington (CHPW), and Dr. Ali Thomas, Medical Director for Healthcare Career Pathways for Kaiser Permanente of Washington.


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During her remarks, Rep. My-Linh Thai discussed the disparities faced by immigrants and refugees in Washington related to COVID-19 and vaccine access.

Hispanic people make up 13% of the Washington State population, yet they make up 39% of the total COVID cases in the state. COVID has exacerbated existing disparities, bringing lower COVID vaccination rates, increased mortality from lack of health coverage, and poor access to culturally competent care. 

Rep. Thai explained that racism is a systemic problem across the board, seeded at a deep level from when the systems were first created. She says it’s inherent in health care, education, housing and transportation foundational sectors that we all depend on. 

Rep. Thai elaborated further:

“The system could only start moving and changing its directions when it’s actually recognizing inherent racism as an inherent lack of capacity to see each individual, as a human, as somebody who deserves the service that we provide.”

Berge’s comments focused on the nuts and bolts of what CHPW is going in conjunction with community health centers and community based organizations to improve the vaccination rate for specific populations. 

“This slide represents data that’s available to us right now. It’s a snapshot in time of data that shows numbers of populations by racial and ethnic categories.”


Berge says this example is particularly important to show how data can be used to see bigger trends and uncover systemic issues, particularly when looking to achieve certain levels of health for entire populations. 

“I think that part of our role in this health care community is to advocate for these broader policy issues because we really need to see change. And advocacy is a big part of it.” 

Dr. Thomas says developing a diverse health care workforce is an important step in improving health equity.

“We have systematically underutilized our people; our most marginalized people are not there. They’re not working psychologists, social workers, researchers, public health providers, advanced nursing practitioners, midwives, dentists, and physicians.”

Thomas says the diversity is in the system, but it’s concentrated “in careers that have too little training, too little influence on life and death decisions, and too little power to transform systems.” 

To have the right conversations, Thomas says it’s important to have the right people in the room. Looking at the data, he says it’s apparent that more underrepresented minority groups need to be in health care leadership careers.

Watch the full video of this 5 slides discussion above.