The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the obstacles associated with eliminating health disparities, preventing disease and maintaining wellness – especially in the United States.
But according to Yale School of Public Health Dean Sten H. Vermund, the hard part is making sure the same mistakes aren’t repeated.
“I could tell you stories for hours about our failed responses, but we never seem to learn from it,” Vermund, M.D., Ph.D., said to an online audience as part of the Yale Healthcare Conference’s keynote address in April. “We can tell an analogous story in the field of public health.”
Hosted by students from across Yale, the 17th annual gathering featured several YSPH experts over the course of two days. This year’s theme, titled “Behind the Mask: Health Equity Lessons From COVID-19,” was a nod to the critical role that public health researchers played in stemming the current health crisis – including the significant work on the part of the YSPH community.
Perspectives about the pandemic were about as plentiful as the number of attendees.
Between panel discussions about the impacts of racism on mental health and lessons learned from the vaccine rollout, researchers spent time dissecting exactly what went right – and what went wrong – about the past year and a half. On the whole, they not only found that health disparities were exacerbated by the pandemic, but also that it would be an uphill battle to correct them.
For YSPH alumna Pamela Sutton-Wallace, an executive at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, closing the gaps in healthcare among vulnerable populations will require many different approaches.
“COVID-19 has just pulled the cover from the issues that we have not fully acknowledged, and I think now it’s just undeniable,” she told an online audience in a keynote address on April 16. “We have to have investments in our public health infrastructure – and that includes our emergency preparedness and management systems as well – at the federal, state and local level.”
As the pandemic continues to rage across the world, coordinating a health strategy against the novel coronavirus will also take effort, Sutton-Wallace added. But she gave some ideas that could help, including investing in community health networks, collaborating among health systems, and incorporating principles of diversity, equity, belonging and inclusion.
"We have a lot of the systems and tools to eradicate disparities,” she said. “What we don’t necessarily have is the compassion and empathy across the board to recognize that people deserve equitable care.”