The health disparities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic are as startling as they are stark. Black Americans are two times as likely to die from COVID-19 than White Americans. Hispanic or Latino Americans are four times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 compared to White Americans, and American Indians or Alaska Natives are five times more likely, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sadly, the racial disparities in health outcomes are not limited to COVID. In New York State, Black women are three times more likely to die during pregnancy or after childbirth compared to White women. And while Black and White women get breast cancer at about the same rate in the U.S., Black women are 40% more likely to die from the disease, according to a recent CDC study.
“We recognize our country must address long-standing health disparities due to race, socioeconomic differences, access to care, and other complex factors that impact the well-being of our communities disproportionately,” said Dr. Steven J. Corwin, president and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian. “NewYork-Presbyterian hopes to be a leader in health justice and developing programs to help solve these issues and improve the lives of our patients and our communities.”
To that end, NewYork-Presbyterian opened the Dalio Center for Health Justice on October 13. Funded by a $50 million grant from Dalio Philanthropies, whose founder, Ray Dalio, is a NewYork-Presbyterian trustee and an important thought partner behind the project, the Dalio Center for Health Justice will be a convener, collaborator, and grantor, bringing together renowned experts in diverse fields to fuel change and support health justice among NewYork-Presbyterian team members, patients and communities, and ultimately local and national policy.
“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed enduring health inequities in a new and alarming way,” said Dr. Julia Iyasere, head of the Dalio Center for Health Justice, “and the importance of health justice has never been clearer.”
In a candid conversation, Mr. Dalio, Dr. Corwin, and Dr. Iyasere, discuss why they each felt a personal “pull” to fight for health justice now and their goals for improving health equity, and driving action that results in measurable improvements in health outcomes for all.
Ray Dalio: Steve, you’re a doctor, you’re head of the hospital. You, like Julia and I, have a pull to do this. I’m just curious where your pull came from?
Dr. Steven J. Corwin: We’ve been doing a lot of work internally on a campaign that we called Respect, which was basically, how does one behave in a large organization with a very diverse population? It’s not enough to be diverse and inclusive; you have to have everybody feel that they belong. Then as COVID occurred, it became obvious that we were dealing with a public health crisis, an economic crisis, and a social crisis. Not only with the disparity in mortalities between people of color and white people, but also some of the attendant issues with Black Lives Matter. I felt it was important for us to take the next step. I felt very strongly that a Center for Health Justice was exactly what we needed to do and I felt that now is the time to do it. Then when you and I had the discussion, I felt that we were speaking from the same page in the same book.
Mr. Dalio: What did you see that pained you and made you feel the hospital should make this move? Because not all people feel that way — and not all hospitals act that way.
Dr. Corwin: I felt that as a country we were traveling down a road that was extremely problematic. I thought Charlottesville was extremely problematic. Then you see the issues with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and it starts to raise the issues of what’s happened to Black Americans through our history. I felt it was extremely important that a public institution like ours, that exists for the public benefit, speaks out on behalf of marginalized peoples. The hospital could make a positive statement as to what its value system is, and I felt that was really important. We have 47,000 employees; over 50% of them are people of color or underrepresented minorities. I had to be their voice as well. So that’s what led me to it.