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West Palm Beach’s Racial And Ethnic Equality Task Force Looks For Answers On Health Equity

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The task force was created by West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James.

West Palm Beach's first Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Equality is in the middle of community outreach.

Mayor Keith James’ citywide policy group, spurred by protests following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor last year, is gathering data on disparities in housing, finance, criminal justice, health, education and workforce development.

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The health subcommittee is in the early stages of identifying pre- and post-pandemic health inequities in the city — their main priority is finding ways to improve access to quality healthcare coverage and outcomes for historically marginalized communities.

George Soria, a health benefit consultant, is co-chairing the city’s subcommittee on health. Soria says figuring out how to address implicit racial and class biases in Black patient care is one of many challenges on their agenda. And that effort includes other ethnic and racial groups with similar risk factors and health outcomes.

He says alongside a history of community disinvestment and lack of access to information regarding health and wellbeing, the type of health insurance a person has, for example, can also contribute to unequal outcomes in the Black communities.

“Bias is coming from where sometimes? Sometimes it’s not necessarily from the doctor himself but from the institution and the administrators who decide who that physician sees,” Soria said.

The subcommittee cited a 2015 study by the American Journal of Public Health, which found implicit bias among most health care providers, many of whom have positive attitudes towards white patients and negative attitudes towards non-white patients.

Soria says community mistrust of public health officials is one of the biggest challenges the health subcommittee has to overcome. He urges people to listen — noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has added extra challenges to their community outreach efforts.

“If we don’t have the community backing the program and the community themselves taking action, it’s an uphill battle,” Soria said.

Each subcommittee in the task force is preparing recommendations to the West Palm Beach mayor and commissioners.