Hispanic and Black communities’ life expectancies dropped about three years, says CDC

Southwest Virginia medical professionals explain racial disparities in health care

The CDC says Americans aren't living as long largely due to the pandemic, and people of color are dying even sooner.

ROANOKE, Va. – Life expectancy in the U.S. dropped by a year and a half in 2020 and COVID-19 is largely to blame, according to the CDC.

It’s the largest one-year decline since WWII, and Hispanic and Black communities were hit the hardest. Their life expectancy dropped about three years.

It’s a dark reality that sheds light on racial disparities in health care.

Dr. Nathaniel L. Bishop, Carilion Clinic’s senior vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer said it’s critical to have a diverse workforce and teach health care professionals to recognize implicit biases.

“If a physician has some assumptions that they have made,” said Bishop. “They might make decisions that have been influenced by that rather than the evidence. So it’s important for a physician to have those levels of awareness, self-awareness so that they can make sure that they’re making appropriate and correct diagnoses and treatments.”

He said community outreach is just as important to address inequities.

“Sometimes it has to do with mistrust that persons have of the health care systems. There are issues of access. Persons don’t have transportation to be able to get to clinical services. Persons may not have insurance. May not just know how to navigate the system. Just very basic things,” said Bishop.

Fourth-year Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine student Joowon Choi sits on the school’s new Council for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She said awareness is the first step.

“It’s going to be a long journey. But I would hope that the patients understand that we’re kind of trying to do our best and we’re all learning and we’re all growing from this whole experience,” said Choi.

From a public health standpoint, Dr. Cynthia Morrow, the director of the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts said by definition disparities can be prevented.

“Those are the preventable and avoidable differences. They’re the measure of inequity,” said Morrow. “What can we do as a society to eliminate these differences that really shouldn’t exist.”

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