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Study Highlights Health Disparities in the District of Columbia

AARP District of Columbia, in collaboration with Georgetown University’s Department of Health Systems Administration, released a comprehensive study on health disparities among Black older adults living in the District of Columbia. The study, A Review of Health and Socioeconomic Disparities among Black Older Adults in the District of Columbia, highlights the role that structural racism and lack of access to affordable, high-quality food, transportation, and health care providers play in creating and compounding health disparities.

Key findings from the study show that rates for heart failure, diabetes, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma were two to three times higher in Black older adults than their white counterparts. Similar trends were found for breast, colorectal, prostate, and lung cancers. Preventable hospitalizations, a proxy for assessing the quality and capacity of a community’s primary care infrastructure, were two times higher for Black older adults than for whites. The study also provides an overview of the disproportionate impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on communities of color in the District of Columbia.

“By highlighting health disparities here in the District of Columbia, our aim is to spur local leaders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors to act and help improve health care access for all Black residents in the District,” said Louis Davis Jr., AARP DC Director. “By doing so, our community can enable equitable access to quality health care, housing, employment and education for older Black residents.”

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Within the past decade, the District of Columbia has implemented numerous initiatives to support older residents and to increase access to health care. While these investments have been beneficial, the study points to the need for a robust and accountable racial equity approach in assessing needs and appropriating resources.

The District Council has made recent progress toward this goal. In November 2020, the District Council passed the Racial Equity Achieves Results (REACH) Amendment Act of 2020, which aims to “unearth and end all socioeconomic disparities experienced by residents of color in housing, income, health care access, food access, and criminal justice.” Also in November 2020, Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray, Chair of the Committee on Health, introduced Proposed Resolution PR23-0990, which declared racism as a public health crisis in the District of Columbia.

“African American seniors in the District, especially those in Wards 7 and 8, face tremendous barriers to health and wellness every day. We’ve known for a long time that we need to address the systematic effects racism has on the African American community.  We must act with urgency to prevent illness and death from avoidable conditions among our most vulnerable residents, and make sure all residents have access to quality health care, healthy living conditions and food,” said Ward 7 Councilmember and Chair of the Committee on Health Vincent C. Gray. “I am pleased to work with AARP to improve health outcomes for people of color in our city.”

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