With racial inequalities and disparities exacerbated by COVID-19, Charlie Mandile called on his fellow Northfield Hospital and Clinics board members to address the issue as the pandemic continues to leave minority groups overrepresented in cases.

Mandile, Rice County-based HealthFinders executive director, said of the county's COVID cases as of late last week, one-third identified as Hispanic/Latino and one-third are Black. He noted those groups are four to five times more represented in case numbers than their population percentages.

Rice County Public Health Director Deb Purfeerst has also underscored the disparities, noting that a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases in the county are people of color and those considered low income.

On June 16, Purfeerst reported that of the county's residents with confirmed cases of COVD-19, 23% were white, 35% were Black. According to 2010 U.S. Census figures, 86% of Rice County residents were white, 6% were Black. In Faribault, 77% were white, 14% were Black.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those racial disparities are being seen on a national level. Race/ethnic data taken from 1.02 million people shows 34.4% of COVID-19 patients were Hispanic/Latino — nearly the same as 35.3% of patients who are white — and around 20% identified as Black. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates in July 2019, white Americans comprised more than 76% of the population, while Hispanic/Latinos were at 18.5% and Black Americans represented 13.4%.

Mandile said although he considers those racial disparities to be a larger problem in Faribault, he wants the board to consider the issue to be part of a more encompassing ongoing system of structural inequities and racism perpetuated by society. He called on fellow members to consider how NH+C could challenge that system.

“It’s extremely concerning,” Mandile said of the inequities on Monday. He doesn’t view the disproportionate numbers as a surprise, because he considers COVID-19, like many diseases, to be a symptom of persisting inequities and disparities within the local health care system. As evidence, he cited Hispanic/Latino and Black populations as disproportionately suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Also, those populations are overrepresented as essential workers in industries such as food production.

To address the inequities, Mandile suggested the hospital focus on the factors that enhance public well-being, including being a driving force behind healthy living initiatives and evaluating how groups impacted negatively by inequities have been excluded from accessing health care services through determinants such as lifestyle, housing, economic and other factors.

“Everybody benefits from food that is produced in healthy and safe ways,” Mandile said. “Everyone benefits when the environment and facilities are clean.”

NH+C board member CC Linstroth said Thursday she hopes the hospital and other city boards/commissions can have information-gathering community sessions on the issue.

Board member Jessica Peterson White called on more discussion to center on the impact structural racism plays in health outcomes and how community members discuss race.

She noted the city of Northfield has participated in the Government Alliance on Race and Equity for the last two years, and most senior staff have undergone training through a racial equity perspective. That progression resulted in a racial equity plan the council could approve next month.

The plan is intended to help people of color who are plagued by racial inequities across societal indicators for success, including education, criminal justice, employment, housing and public health. City officials hope the focus on race provides a chance to make the city a more inclusive place.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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