Rep. Ayanna Pressley said Gov. Charlie Baker is open to rescinding state-issued voluntary guidelines for hospitals regarding rationing medical equipment following comments from elected officials that the guidelines may result in a lack of medical care for African-Americans and Latinos.
“I speak with the governor regularly,” Pressley said during an interview with Boston Public Radio on Friday. “He’s open to rescinding, and said they would take a hard look at it.”
On April 7, state health officials released guidelines about making decisions regarding the dispersion of critical life-saving equipment, such as ventilators, if a hospital is overburdened with patients. To determine where to allocate resources, the guidelines recommend hospitals utilize a points-based system that gives preference to patients who are likely to live longer and do not have underlying conditions. Critics, like Pressley, argue that decades of systemic racism and structural problems have resulted in poorer average health for African-Americans and Latinos than others nationally, and the guidelines are likely to cause more care to go towards whites and Asians.
“It all comes down to the real struggles, the comorbidities, the lack of equitable access to health care, structural racism,” Pressley said. “The best policies are informed by data, and the data tell us that black and brown people have higher rates of diabetes, asthma and hypertension, and therefore at a greater risk of serious illness due to COVID-19.”
Pressley’s call for the guidelines to be rescinded comes on the heels of Rep. Joe Kennedy III and state Rep. Jon Santiago, who both signed a letter to the governor the previous week saying the guidelines would negatively impact African-Americans and Latinos over whites. Baker’s office did not respond to a request for a comment.
Limited data released by both the state and city of Boston show higher rates of coronavirus infections in black and Latino residents. On Monday, Dr. Sandro Galea, the dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, told WGBH News that once more data is available, he expects to see a trend of the virus more heavily impacting African-Americans and Latinos than whites. Pressley said she believes the higher rate of infections and disease in communities of color is connected to structural policy problems, such as a lack of available healthy food and public transportation.
“I hear a lot of folks saying they can’t wait until we return to normal,” Pressley said. “I don’t want to return to a normal where black and brown communities disproportionately suffer with these health disparities that could be combated with equal access to health care, and by our acknowledging the food deserts, the transportation deserts, and the disproportionate burden of environmental injustices.”
On Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders reiterated that the guidelines are not mandatory, and some hospitals have chosen to create their own systems. Despite saying the guidelines were created to root out unconscious bias, she did acknowledge in a Monday press conference that systemic barriers for marginalized groups to health care is an issue that should be addressed.