Vanderbilt medical experts discuss health disparities, inequities during COVID-19 on webinar co-hosted with SEC chief diversity officers

More than 600 attendees from across the Southeast participated in a June 24 webinar hosted by Vanderbilt and presented by the chief diversity officers of universities in the Southeastern Conference. The event brought together 16 medical, public health and diversity experts to discuss how long-standing health disparities and inequities have been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. André L. Churchwell, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer at Vanderbilt University, opened the event. “We felt that if we pulled together the SEC’s best talent around this health issue, we would have something to share in the global dialogue about this pandemic,” Churchwell said.

The first panel, which focused on Nashville’s response to COVID-19, included Dr. Consuelo H. Wilkins, vice president for health equity at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, professor of medicine and associate dean for health equity in the School of Medicine and executive director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance. She was joined by Amy Richardson, chief community health officer at Siloam Health, and Dr. Alex Jahangir, a professor of orthopaedic surgery at the School of Medicine and director of orthopaedic trauma and executive medical director of the Vanderbilt Center for Trauma, Burn and Emergency Surgery. Jahangir also chairs Metro Nashville’s Coronavirus Task Force and serves on the Metro Board of Health.

During the first panel, Wilkins highlighted work at VUMC, including early efforts to make health equity a core part of the Medical Center’s response.

“As part of our COVID-19 command center, early on we embedded health equity as a workstream,” Wilkins noted. “So we have a large body of work that Dr. Churchwell, other key leaders at VUMC and I have been involved in since very early in the pandemic. We have several sub-streams focused on how we effectively communicate about the pandemic, how to make sure testing and surveillance are equitable, as well as care, and we also have a focus on research.”

The other four panels featured medical and public health experts and chief diversity officers from the University of Florida, the University of Arkansas, the University of Alabama, Louisiana State University, the University of Kentucky and Auburn University, as well as their affiliated health systems. Topics covered throughout the two-hour event included reaching out to and building trust with a diverse array of communities, addressing language as a barrier in health care, policy and structural changes around health care, disparities between different geographic communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, and more.

The event was developed and organized by the chief diversity officers of universities in the SEC. A full list of speakers is available on the preview story for the event.