Minneapolis, MN

Local experts discuss age-related health inequities during pandemic

Terry Davis

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SAINT PAUL, MN — Three panelists discussed ageism, racism, geography, politics, economics, and the roles these play in older adult care at Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation's Giving+Together on Thursday, May 20.

Dr. Tetyana Shippee reported at the beginning of the session that the city of Minnesota is one of the two states that has validated measures of quality of life in nursing homes. Her study, however, found increasing and growing racial-ethnic disparities and quality of life between Black, Indigenous, persons of color, and white people.

Black and Indigenous people reported the lowest quality of life scores. The areas in which the most significant disadvantages can be seen are food satisfaction and enjoyment, activities offered in nursing homes, and how they're treated by staff.

Stella Whitney-West, CEO at NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center, talked about health-related disparities. She stated that they are exacerbated with age, to the point where life expectancy in communities of color, particularly the African American and Native American groups, is significantly lower than that of white Minnesotans.

When it comes to social determinants of health, she said that the creation of wealth and the ability to have access to wealth makes a considerable difference in some of those social determinants of health.

The discussion then continued with Dr. James Pacala defining ethnogeriatrics by examining the relationship between ethnic identity and the medical problems that affect older persons.

She believes that geriatricians can make the best medical decisions, give the best medications, and perform the most precise procedures. However, once they ignore ethnic and racial factors, they will fail their patients.

The racial composition of nursing facilities was the most important predictor of higher COVID and COVID mortality, said Dr. Shippee. She believes that facilities with a higher proportion of Black and Hispanic inhabitants had a higher chance of COVID infections and COVID death due to institutional racism.

Whitney-West also added that one area that COVID uncovered was the inadequacy of the nation's public health. In addition, the fact that wearing a mask turned out to be a political decision showed that public health-wise, the USA did not respond well to COVID-19.

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