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Some Wisconsin Health Officials Prepare To Tackle Persistent Problem: Racial Disparities In Care

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Some Wisconsin health officials want to make plans to tackle a major longtime issue — racial disparities in health care.

With COVID-19 on the decline in much of the U.S., though Wisconsin is seeing a slight uptick, some health officials want to make plans to tackle a major longtime issue — racial disparities in health care.

Lisa Peyton-Caire is founder and president of the Madison-based Foundation for Black Women's Wellness. She said in addition to the ongoing problems of high Black infant mortality and Black mothers dying during childbirth, life expectancy for Black women is declining faster compared to white women.

"And that is quite alarming because we are a state with so many resources, so much care, right? We outrank many states in levels of health care coverage, levels of health care access for Black women, yet we continue to trail the nation in health care outcomes," Peyton-Caire said.

According to federal figures released in February, overall life expectancy for U.S. residents dropped by more than a year during the first half of 2020. For white women, it declined by seven-tenths of a year. For Black women, the drop was 2.3 years. For Black males, the decline was 3 years.

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Lisa Peyton-Caire, of The Foundation for Black Women's Wellness, listens during Tuesday's event.

During an online forum Tuesday organized by Wisconsin Health News, some ideas surfaced on how to reduce the disparities. Laura Waldvogel heads Family Health La Clinica, which serves a large number of Latinos in rural and small town Wisconsin.

Waldvogel said recruiting health care staff to rural areas is challenging. "And yet, it's important that intentional effort is made to recruit and retain providers that represent patients we are serving, that speak the language of the patients we are serving," she said.

Waldvogel mentioned scholarship opportunities for underrepresented groups.

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Theresa Jones, of Children's Wisconsin, in Wauwatosa, listens during the Wisconsin Health News online event.

Theresa Jones, of Children's Wisconsin in Wauwatosa, recommended helping bring along non-white providers already on staff. "So, we're looking at opportunities for mentoring internally. Looking for opportunities as we go out into the community and schools for mentoring and development, and creating those workforce development programs in areas we see huge disparities as well," she said

The state of Wisconsin also promises to get more involved. Gov. Tony Evers recently created the Office of Health Equity. It's expected to reach out to people who need better health care for their ideas on improving access and trust in the system.