Statistics show COVID-19 has been especially hard on the African American community, with Blacks making up 40% of the deaths in Michigan.
On Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive directive she believes will help the state respond to the disproportionate impact of the disease on people of color.
Executive Directive 2020-7 directs the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to begin developing rules that will require implicit bias training as part of the knowledge and skills necessary for licensure, registration and renewal of licenses and registrations of health professionals in Michigan.
Implicit bias training was one of the recommendations made by the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, created by Whitmer and chaired by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist response to the devastating and disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on communities of color.
“There’s no doubt that our front line health care workers like doctors and nurses have been the real heroes of this crisis, putting their lives on the line for us every day,” Whitmer said. “COVID-19 has had a disparate impact on people of color due to a variety of factors, and we must do everything we can to address this disparity. The evidence shows that training in implicit bias can make a positive difference, so today we are taking action to help improve racial equity across Michigan’s health care system. That’s why my staff has begun this kind of training and every member of my team, including me, will complete this type of training on an annual basis.”
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During her State of the State address this year, Whitmer called for implicit bias training for all healthcare and medical professionals to combat racism felt across the healthcare industry.
“The existing health disparities highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic have made it clear that there is more work to do to ensure people of color have the same access to the same quality of health care as everyone else,” said Gilchrist, who said at Whitmer’s press conference Thursday that 23 people in his life have died from the virus. “By providing awareness to health care workers on how to recognize and mitigate implicit bias, we can help them carry out their mission of providing the best health care to every patient they serve.”
As of July 5, Black Michiganders represented 14% of the state population, but 40% of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in which the race of the patient was known. COVID-19 is over four times more prevalent among Black Michiganders than among white Michiganders.
The National Healthcare Disparities Report concluded that white patients received care of a higher quality than Black, Hispanic, Indigenous and Asian Americans. People of color face more barriers to accessing health care than white people and are generally less satisfied with their interactions with health care providers.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said there’s “no question” healthcare workers have “risked their own lives and saved countless others” during the pandemic.
“But the fact is that implicit bias exists, and studies show that it can have an impact on health outcomes,” Khaldun said. “Every healthcare professional should be trained in implicit bias so that we can make sure everyone, regardless of their race or ethnicity, has access to the highest quality care.”
Dr. Michael Chafty, chair of the Michigan Board of Medicine, applauded the move.
“This is an excellent step in the right direction and … I stand ready to work with our board members and the administration to establish implicit biased training for physicians,” Chafty said.
Under Executive Directive 2020-7, LARA is required to consult with relevant stakeholders in the medical profession, in state government and elsewhere in the community by Nov. 1, 2020 to help determine relevant goals and concerns under the new rules. LARA will work in collaboration with the relevant professional boards and task forces to promulgate the rules.