Faculty members in the School of Social Work presented a discussion panel and Q&A titled “COVID-19, Diversity and Health Disparities” to provide information and data to support action and advocacy Thursday.
Noelle Fields, moderator and School of Social Work assistant professor, said COVID-19 has exacerbated existing disparities while simultaneously reducing access to the communities and services that are part of responding to disparities and creating equity.
She said the U.S. grapples with a dual pandemic of COVID-19 and structural racism, which is the policies, programs and institutional practices that create barriers against people of color.
Differences in access to high-quality jobs, economic stability, quality education, health care services and quality neighborhoods contribute to racial inequities in health, Fields said. Social determinants of health including where a person lives, works and the quality of accessible health care have left people of color marginalized and disadvantaged.
“Racism — not race — affects health, and race should not be used to explain away disparities caused by racism,” Fields said.
Panelists discussed intersectionality in regard to the increase in domestic violence, the burdens children and families are facing while out of school and the disproportionate effect COVID-19 has on the elderly.
Karla Arenas-Itotia, School of Social Work assistant professor of practice, said it is important to acknowledge that mental health is real and that people react differently to stress and crisis.
During the pandemic, she said people may experience difficulty concentrating, fear, worry, mixed emotions, feeling stigmatized and concern for financial situations or job security, among other things.
For victims of domestic violence, Arenas-Itotia said they may be unable to access help due to limited outside social contact. Social distancing measures increase the time victims spend at home with their abusers, which increases the risk of abuse that victims, including children and the elderly, can face.
Individuals wanting to help should share resources with victims and try to have an understanding of a safety plan. Arenas-Itotia said it's important to have an idea of what basic signs of mental health impacts look like during the pandemic, to encourage self-care and reaching out for help when needed.
In hospitals, there has been an increase in severe abuse cases, said Jandel Crutchfield, School of Social Work assistant professor. Children have been cut off from professionals that are responsible for detecting and reporting suspected abuse.
Children in the foster care system have seen a delay in visitation with biological parents and reunifications, court processes and juvenile courts, leading to children and parents having to deal with those burdens, she said.
Crutchfield said millions of children and families’ educational patterns have been completely altered. Children and families are suffering a loss and grieving; this is why multiple virtual proms, ceremonies and graduations are being seen.
The loss of learning has affected students differently, Crutchfield said. Since schools closed some students have lost over a year of learning. Known as the COVID-19 slide, this information can’t be easily retaught through short virtual meetings.
Rebecca Mauldin, School of Social Work assistant professor, said COVID-19 has disproportionately affected older adults' health, and they experience a higher risk of hospitalization and mortality. She said 80% of the recorded deaths in the U.S. are people age 65 or older.
Economic hardships and the higher risk of infection in older adults has led to ageist practices. Mauldin said there have been discussions about health care rationing that devalue older adults' lives, including suggestions that reopening the state shouldn’t include the elderly or that their deaths are reasonable sacrifices for the country.
“COVID-19, Diversity and Social Work Practice: Panel Series - Part 2” is scheduled for July 10 at 2 p.m.