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‘We’re losing lives.’ Black, Latino leaders tackle racial health disparities

By: Mike Damiano, Globe Staff

Updated: May 16, 2022, 6:04 p.m.

Black and Latino health care and business leaders on Monday launched a new initiative, the Health Equity Compact, that aims to combat racial and ethnic disparities in Massachusetts laid bare by the pandemic.

Among the 41 leaders are such names as Lee Pelton, president of The Boston Foundation; Dr. Kevin Churchwell, CEO of Boston Children’s Hospital; and Cain Hayes, president of Point32 Health, the state’s second-largest health insurer.

The group’s main objective is to design — and lobby the state Legislature to pass — an expansive reform bill aimed at closing the deeply entrenched gaps between health outcomes for Black and Latino residents and their white neighbors.

The gaps themselves are wide. Average life expectancy in the wealthy, predominantly white Back Bay neighborhood, for example, was 92 years, according to a 2012 study from Virginia Commonwealth University. Three miles away, in predominantly Black Roxbury, the expected lifespan was just 59 years.

In the decade since the VCU study, racial disparities worsened, “and then there was COVID,” said Dr. Joan Reede, a dean and professor at Harvard Medical School and a member of the compact, at a news conference announcing the group’s launch.

During the first summer of COVID, in 2020, Latinos made up 12 percent of the Massachusetts population but 29 percent of confirmed cases. Black people, who made up 7 percent of the state’s population, accounted for 14 percent of the COVID cases.

And the gaps persist across a wide array of metrics. According to a 2021 study by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, Black and Hispanic residents were uninsured at twice the rate of white people in 2019. Infant mortality was far more common for Black and Hispanic families than for white ones, occurring at rates of 6.6, 5.1, and 2.1 per 1,000 live births, respectively.


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