By Kelly Werthmann

DENVER (CBS4)– April is recognized by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services as National Minority Health Month. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and disproportionately impacts minority groups, now is an incredibly important time to address these inequities.

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Part of observing Minority Health Month is to highlight efforts to improve the health of racial/ethnic minority populations nationwide. It’s also about raising awareness about the disproportionate health outcomes among vulnerable populations belonging to minority groups.

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“This is a community I belong to,” Wanda Harris, president and CEO of Optum Colorado, said. “Social determinants of health have historically prevented people of color from having fair opportunities for economic, physical and emotional health. According to the CDC, minorities are 1.7 times more likely to catch COVID-19, they are 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalized and, unfortunately, 2.4 times more likely to die from COVID compared to their white non-Hispanic counterparts.”

All the more reason why, Harris added, Minority Health Month is so important. It exposes health inequities and disparities across the nation, she said.

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“Health equity is helping people live their healthiest lives by giving them care and support that they need to achieve that optimal health, and providing different support to make up for disparities stemming from systemic disadvantages,” Harris told CBSN Denver’s Kelly Werthmann.

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Harris explained Optum is a healthcare organization that strives to share healthcare that works for a patient’s whole health. It’s taking steps to ensure underserved communities in Colorado have equal access to healthcare and COVID-19 vaccines.

“Optum is focused on meeting the patient where they are,” Harris explained. “Patients in underserved areas cannot get to many of the vaccination sites… We worked with the governor’s administration to identify these areas and we set up vaccination pop-up clinics to meet the patients, again, where they are. We also are working with churches and local nonprofit organizations to identify patients that cannot leave their homes.”

(credit: CBS)

As for encouraging other companies and people to help reach out to these communities, Harris said it’s important to be educated about these health disparities.

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“If you think about African Americans from ages 18 to 49, they’re two times more likely to die from heart disease,” she said. “So, joining the American Heart Association will give you some insight on some of those disparities. Hispanics are almost three times as likely to be uninsured as their white counterparts. Being part of that community or those organizations that allow education about where these deficiencies are is really going to be key. Once you educate yourself, get involved, help these communities grow and be exposed to better healthcare.”

Kelly Werthmann