The Journal of Aging and Social Change offers an annual award for newly published research or thinking that has been recognized to be outstanding by members of the Aging & Social Change Research Network.
Health disparities between whites and people of color are shrinking but are far from eliminated. Specifically, elderly African American men continue to have poorer health outcomes than their white counterparts. Disparities are present across several metrics, including mortality rates from common diseases and overall life expectancy, as well as lower rates of healthcare utilization. Several factors contribute to these inequities: discrimination and lack of access to the healthcare system, mistrust in the healthcare system, and an underutilization of preventive services. As healthcare moves toward population management, it is crucial that these disparities are lessened. This article aims to individually and collectively examine the factors above from a social work perspective and propose ideas for change based on data from a transitional care program that aims to prevent hospital readmissions by engaging patients and empowering them to manage their own healthcare. This article underscores the need for top-down changes to make healthcare delivery more effective for underserved populations while simultaneously addressing ways to shift perspectives in communities of color to stimulate enhanced engagement with the healthcare system.
First, I am beyond grateful and so deeply honored to receive such an outstanding award. I must thank the Mount Sinai Health System and the Department of Social Work, as well as my supervisor, colleagues, and staff for their support. In addition, I have to recognize and acknowledge all people of color and other groups who have experienced any form of inequity while attempting to access fair and reasonable healthcare.
This article lays out foundational information and provides the background necessary to begin to address certain health disparities in our country. Without a firm understanding of the root causes for unequal treatment, and thus unequal outcomes, there cannot be true progress or equity for all of our people. While individual biases continue to exist, in my direct practice work I often witnessed patients who were dismissed, judged, and identified with stigmatizing labels, leading to biased systemic practices. I wrote this article to shed light on that issue, and in order to combat this, I believe it is important that we take the time to understand each person’s unique history and allow them to educate us as professionals on the things that they feel are holding them back. Furthermore, I assert that social workers are the professionals who have the training and expertise to recognize, diagnose, and treat the problems that arise out of injustice and unfairness.
Personally, this article is important for my family, some of whom have lived through the events that were described, and others who have experienced the health issues of their own. I am privileged to be able to write about something that brings out such a passion within me. I hope that readers learn things they did not know before, and think about ways they might be able to actively work towards changing the structures currently in place.
Kathy Black and Kathyrn Hyer, The International Journal of Aging and Society, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp.59-71
Orla Collins and Joe Bogue, The International Journal of Aging and Society, Volume 4, Issue 3-4, pp.1–12
Andy Cochrane, Sinéad McGilloway, Mairéad Furlong, and Michael Donnelly, The International Journal of Aging and Society, Volume 2, Issue 2, 13–23