“As health care providers, I believe we must all play a role in creating a healthier, more equitable society,” says The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center gastroenterologist Darrell Gray, MD, MPH. “There are definitely no easy answers and the challenge can feel overwhelming, but action by individuals and teams can create meaningful change.”
Dr. Gray backs those words with his own efforts to address systemic inequities in health care.
Dr. Gray recently co-authored a commentary paper, COVID-19 and the other pandemic: populations made vulnerable by systemic inequity, which outlines how the current crisis “removed the veil on health inequities that, for some with the luxury to ignore them, have been hiding in plain sight.” The authors provide concrete examples of systemic failure at all levels and maintain that our response going forward will have lasting implications on our nation’s health and future.
“There is now a magnifying glass on the long-standing inequities in health among black and indigenous people of color,” Dr. Gray says, “but this is not a new problem. Nevertheless, the virus has allowed new focus and awareness, and the momentum can prove tremendous.”
He emphasizes the importance of moving beyond the symptoms of the problem—such as disproportionately poor outcomes for COVID-19 and other chronic diseases—and addressing the root causes. These upstream and midstream social determinants of health include racism, discrimination, social policies, educational inequities, under- or unemployment, low-quality or unsafe housing, income instability, food insecurity, poor nutrition, medical mistrust, low access to quality health care and more. During COVID-19, these existing problems manifested further, and already vulnerable populations found it difficult to access needed masks, testing and quality care.
Ultimately, this list of inequities has left minority populations struggling with serious and chronic conditions, with some of the most prominent being heart disease, asthma and lung disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer. During the pandemic, this list expanded to include higher rates of positive cases, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
Long before the pandemic, Dr. Gray was already actively involved in finding solutions on both a personal and professional level. At The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, he serves as the director of Community Engagement and Equity in Digestive Health, while at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, he’s deputy director of the Center for Cancer Health Equity. In addition to other community engagement efforts, Dr. Gray partnered with Columbus City Council President Pro Tem Elizabeth Brown in October to introduce “Right to Recover,” legislation that would provide income to qualified Columbus workers who are forced to take time off of work to isolate, recover from or mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19.
In May, Dr. Gray joined other medical center staff to distribute Community Care Kits in five targeted ZIP codes to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Kits included five face masks, soap, hand sanitizer, water, dental hygiene supplies and educational materials in multiple languages.
To support physicians and patients throughout the community, the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center also offers multicultural resources specifically related to COVID-19, including education materials translated into multiple languages
Watch a presentation of Dr. Gray speaking about his important initiative here.