The members of a Wolf administration task force charged with making recommendations to address health inequality in the state’s minority populations said Wednesday they’ve made progress in closing the gap amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Tom Wolf formed the task force last month, assigning it to identify obstacles that cause disparity among marginalized populations and bringing those issues to his attention.
The panel, chaired by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, held its first meeting on April 17. It draws its membership from the Department of Health’s Office of Health Equity and five commissions – Latino Affairs, Asian Pacific American Affairs, Women’s Commission, African American Affairs, and LGBTQ Affairs
In a statement released by is office, Fetterman said the task force has worked to:
- Reinforce of state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine’s mandate for healthcare providers to include race and ethnicity data for patients tested for coronavirus. After Governor Wolf’s enforcement reminder, compliance has risen from approximately 30-to-35 percent to 70-to-75 percent of new tests.
- Include sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in contact-tracing data. After advocates in the community voiced concerns and pushed for inclusion, the governor announced the Department of Health will be working with Sara Alert, a new data-collection platform, for a system modification to collect sexual orientation and gender identity data.
- Highlight the need for more accessible testing, including more locations, access for the uninsured, and non-discriminatory providers.
- Increase support for community providers, highlighting the important work they are doing to mitigate the spread of coronavirus in their communities. The task force has worked to connect community providers and other community groups with state resources to improve their outreach.
- Advocate for housing security, which is of particular concern for those who are temporarily unable to work because of the coronavirus. Earlier this month, Wolf signed an executive order protecting Pennsylvanians from evictions or foreclosure through July 10.
- Create more translated PSAs, so speakers of various languages have access to COVID-19 information and resources.
“Health disparity has been an issue for generations, with Pennsylvania’s marginalized citizens being among those with the least access to quality healthcare,” Fetterman said in a statement. “This task force’s immediate purpose is to identify issues related to the coronavirus and let the governor know what could be done to help right now, but our longer-term goal is to give the governor recommendations to tackle the health-related disadvantages that have plagued our marginalized communities for too long.”
The task force’s recommendations “will represent both short-term and long-term goals related to the disparity reported during the COVID-19 pandemic in our vulnerable communities,” Fetterman’s office said in a statement.
“We’re proud of the work we’ve done so far, and we’re thankful that Gov. Wolf recognized the need for an entity like this task force,” task force member Julie Strickland-Gilliard, a Pittsburgh native and Fetterman’s Western Regional Director said. “While we’re connecting resources so solutions can be developed to help underserved communities during this pandemic, we’ve also got an eye on policies that can be carried into the future to correct this disparity for good.”