NHS Department Chairs Offer Perspectives on Health Disparities and Racial Justice

Screenshot of Zoom-based discussion with Dr. Edilma Yearwood, Dr. Christopher King, and Vice President Rosemary Kilkenny
Clockwise from top left: Dr. Edilma Yearwood, Dr. Christopher King, and Vice President Rosemary Kilkenny

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July 2, 2020 – Dr. Christopher King, chair of the Department of Health Systems Administration, and Dr. Edilma Yearwood, chair of the Department of Professional Nursing Practice, were featured speakers for the event, “The Growing Crisis of Health Disparities in American Society.”

The virtual discussion, hosted by the Office of the Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of IDEAA, took place July 1 as a part of the series, “Conversations About Racial Injustice: The Movement Towards Equity and Fairness.”

“Public health officials and, in particular, representatives from the medical establishments have long sounded the alarm about the high incidence of health disparities in many urban and rural communities inhabited by Black, brown, and Native American citizens,” said Rosemary Kilkenny, vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion and chief diversity officer at Georgetown, during her introduction.

‘Public Health Crisis’

“Today, COVID-19 is shining a bright light on this public health crisis that appears to be completely out of control in certain regions of our country,” Kilkenny said.

During their virtual discussion, the panelists discussed King’s recently released report, Health Disparities in the Black Community: An Imperative for Racial Equity in the District of Columbia. (Read more about the report’s findings.) They discussed an interdisciplinary course on health equity they have co-taught the past few years for students on the university’s campus. And they highlighted Georgetown’s founding of the Institute for Racial Justice, including the recruitment of renowned scholars, one of whom will have a joint appointment with the institute and the Department of Health Systems Administration.

“We have a national crisis with COVID-19, but in the minority communities, Black and brown communities, Native American communities, Asian communities, this event has served as an accelerant to an underlying problem that has always existed,” said Yearwood, who specializes in adolescent mental health and highlighted the importance of working with children and young adults. “Those of us who work in this area have been acutely aware of the disparities issues as [they relate] to risk factors for health outcomes.”

Envisioning the Future

The experts covered a range of related topics, such as the mental health toll of COVID-19, health disparities caused by a lack of access to technology in a time of increasing telemedicine, the perpetuation of inequities in communities due to a lack of diversity in health care leadership, an ongoing distrust of the government given “the atrocity” of the Tuskegee syphilis study, and the need to understand the history of racism in health care. 

Responding to an audience question about what success might look like, King said: “I envision a world where we can’t predict a health outcome by a person’s race. That’s what the future would look like for me.”

By Bill Cessato