Over a year into a pandemic that has cost the lives of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color at rates that are unjust and preventable, we cannot allow ourselves or our state to continue to use the word “equity” without the data to show policies really are addressing injustice. We all know the disparities aren’t about race; they’re about racism.
Racism has caused the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people of color. We cannot claim to be anti-racist or support equity adequately if we do not have the data to evaluate whether or not words are really resulting in change.
This Health Equity Week 2021, a series of events and opportunities to learn about health equity from April 4-10, centers the need for data to implement and evaluate equity-focused policies. As it stands today, each state agency uses different categories for race and ethnicity so data can’t easily be compared, matched, or shared. As a result, this data is rarely reported and often incomplete. It is now and will continue to be completely voluntary for individuals to share their race or ethnicity with health care providers. What we want to see is action by the state to collect race, ethnicity, and language data consistently and using categories that reflect the makeup of our state.
Two legislative proposals to standardize the way race, ethnicity, and language data are collected were heard by the Public Health Committee in March. S.B. 1 requires state agencies to collect race, ethnicity, and language data using a standard set of categories based on the demographics of Connecticut. This would mean all agencies use the same categories and that people are more likely to see and be able to choose categories that align with how they identify—for example, I could choose Black and American Indian as my race since I identify as both.
H.B. 6424 adds reporting REL data to requirements for participation in the state of Connecticut’s Health Information Exchange, which would simply require health care providers to share data that they already collect along within a set of data they must to submit to this project. Again, sharing race and ethnicity data would remain voluntary for individuals. This just requires hospitals to report what they collect.
COVID-19 has showed us just how important race, ethnicity, and language data truly is. Without the minimal data we have now, the enormous toll on people of color could be denied or ignored. More and better data could have guided resources to the communities in greatest need. It is necessary that—especially during a pandemic—we are defining who is “high risk” through this kind of data in order to give help where it is needed and address inequities in the state. This data makes it possible to see the results of racism in time to address them rather than treating everyone as though our needs and opportunities are all the same.
REL data collection could lead to system-wide improvements. By improving how Connecticut collects data, we are obtaining the numbers to reflect the systemic racism within the state, and we will be able to use this data as we go forward in the future and undertake the long process of dismantling the racism in our systems. This is not a new idea and it could not be more urgent. It would be a disgrace to go any longer without taking this both small and crucial step to improve Connecticut’s race, ethnicity, and language data.
The Rev. Robyn Anderson is the Executive Director of the Ministerial Health Fellowship (MHF), a faith-based health care advocacy network of Black Pastors and church leaders in Connecticut with the purpose of building knowledge of health care issues, advocating of health equity, and forging connections with health care providers and public officials in order to reduce health disparities for communities of color.