Manuel Scherif Data News Weekly Contributor
The COVID-19 Pandemic revealed the health inequities across the state. Louisiana, and, New Orleans, in particular, carried some of the worse numbers for COVID-19 deaths at the start of the lockdown in March. In response to such numbers, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced a 10-year, state-wide investment into healthcare access, health equity, and health outcomes across the state with a focus on urban, rural, and underserved communities.
Edwards stated that the initial first 5-years will see an investment of $100 million to address the state’s health disparities. State officials will work with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng in partnership with Ochsner Health and Xavier University of Louisiana, to improve the state’s overall healthcare systems.
“Louisiana’s unfortunate distinction of being ranked one of the least healthy states is not just a number – it reflects the lives and livelihood of our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family,” said Warner L. Thomas, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Ochsner Health, in a statement announcing the initiative. “We understand that accomplishing this aspirational goal will happen by coming together and we implore other organizations, local leaders and community members to join us in this journey to create a healthier state,” Thomas said.
America’s Health Rankings placed Louisiana once again among the lowest ranked states when dealing with clinical, behavioral, environmental, and social factors. Currently, Louisiana placed 49th in 2020 in National Rankings, with COVID-19’s spread in the state being a major factor that made New Orleans one of the hardest hit hotspots in the nation. Ochsner Health said it will partner with Xavier, the Brees Dream Foundation, and other Health Advocacy Organizations to support, study, and plan ways to improve these rankings by analyzing health factors and disparities that identify what is needed in many communities.
“The impacts as it relates to the health disparities in the City wasn’t and didn’t fall fresh on us as it relates to COVID-19,” said Mayor LaToya Cantrell at a press conference announcing the partnership.
“We learned even after Katrina how vulnerable people are. Recognizing those disparities and seeing them once again from COVID-19 has really forced all of us to not only look in the mirror, but to double down on our efforts because it’s not just an opportunity at this moment it’s an obligation that we all have,” Cantrell said.
This 10-year effort will take all stakeholders coming together, Cantrell added.
“Partnering with my alma mater Xavier University of Louisiana and focusing on equity because that means that’s speaking to my heart, and the dignity that our people deserve,” she said. Xavier and Ochsner will work to develop the Ochsner Xavier Center for Health Equity to expand the pipeline for training and education of a diverse healthcare workforce in the state.
“Our health outcomes are driven by social factors,” said Xavier’s President Reynold Verret in a statement. “It is important that we come together to face these issues head on.”