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Morehouse School of Medicine has been awarded $1 million to build a database that will document health disparities in the South and offer solutions.
Forty years after the Civil Rights Act ended segregation in hospitals, the South is still struggling with racial and ethnic disparities in health care. The southern states rank near the bottom of the 50 United States in overall health status, in large part because of poor health care for minorities and unequal access to timely and adequate care. According to the nonprofit United Health Foundation, Mississippi ranks last for health, followed by Alabama and West Virginia. Georgia doesn’t fare much better, checking in at number 43 for persistently high rates of premature death and infant mortality among African Americans.
“It’s not surprising that these states share poor minority health outcomes, because racial health disparities are historically rooted in the South. This region is the epicenter of the black-white health disparities epidemic,” says George Rust, MD, MPH, director of the National Center for Primary Care (NCPC) at Morehouse School of Medicine.
Dr. Rust is leading an effort to document and change those statistics for the poorest Southerners: Medicaid enrollees. Previous NCPC work has shown that significant racial disparities exist in the population served by Medicaid, even though all enrollees have to meet the same requirements and use the same insurance card with access to the same doctors and medicine. In other words, even on the intentionally level playing field of Medicaid, where all health care recipients should be treated the same, Dr. Rust has found differences in the receipt of HIV meds, antidepressants and antiviral flu drugs among white and black patients.
“There are also substantial differences in appropriate treatment from one community to another, or between rural and urban areas,” he adds. “We want to understand why and to measure the impact of these treatment differences on health outcomes.”
The NCPC has received a $1 million grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality to do just that. The grant will allow MSM to build a database of Medicaid information from 14 Southern states to support research to assess how community, provider and patient differences in treatment contribute to health disparities. The data will capture information from one-third of all Medicaid enrollees and nearly half of all African-American enrollees in the U.S.
“The potential impact is huge,” notes Dr. Rust. “This database will fuel research that can discover why health disparities exist and how we can eliminate them, in the South and elsewhere.”
About Morehouse School of Medicine
Morehouse School of Medicine is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of individuals and communities; increasing the diversity of the health professional and scientific workforce; and addressing primary health-care needs through programs in education, research, and service, with emphasis on people of color and the underserved urban and rural populations in Georgia and the nation.
Morehouse School of Medicine is a member of the largest consortium of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the world — the Atlanta University Center (AUC). For more information about Morehouse School of Medicine, visit us online at www.msm.edu.