The Joint Commission Releases Advisory on Equitable Care during Pandemic


The Joint Commission Releases Advisory on Equitable Care during Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the substantial disparities that have existed in healthcare for many years. People from racial and ethnic minority groups have an increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A new Quick Safety advisory from The Joint Commission of Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois, “Supporting Safe, Equitable Care during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” reviews requirements and initiatives to address healthcare disparities, as well as provides recommended safety actions for healthcare organizations to decrease barriers from providing equitable care during the pandemic, according to a February 9 press release.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the “ground of race, color or national origin” in hospitals and other healthcare organizations that receive federal financial assistance. In July 2020, the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) issued a bulletin that affirms the application of Title VI to the current COVID-19 public health emergency.

The Joint Commission has several standards and requirements that promote health equity related to:

  • Nondiscrimination
  • Collection of data on race, ethnicity and preferred language
  • Health literacy and patients’ learning needs/styles
  • Patients’ preferred patient-provider communication

Some of the recommended safety actions in the advisory for healthcare leaders, providers and caregivers to consider during COVID-19 and beyond include:

  • Proactively collect data to see if and where disparities and inequities in treatment and service delivery take place.
  • Use approved, encrypted, free platforms to communicate with patients beyond traditional phone calls and office visits to break down access barriers.
  • Use trusted community voices to encourage vaccination against COVID-19 to ensure minority groups are not disproportionately unvaccinated.
  • Educate and train staff on implicit bias.
  • Provide medical interpreters for patients of different cultures and ethnicities who have limited English proficiency or who prefer speaking in a language other than English.
  • Identify key community resources, such as food banks or pantries, housing assistance and infection mitigation supplies (e.g., masks, sanitizer).
  • Be sensitive to the fact that many persons of color feel disrespected by healthcare workers, which augments a sense of distrust.

“While inequity and disparities have long existed in healthcare, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light how the social determinants of health, such as poverty and access to health care, impact so many patients and communities across the nation,” said Ana Pujols McKee, MD, executive vice president, chief medical officer, and chief diversity and inclusion officer at The Joint Commission, in the release. “In addition to our latest Quick Safety advisory, The Joint Commission recently developed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering Council, as well as continues to update our Health Equity webpage with free resources. We are here to support health care organizations to ensure all patients receive equitable care.”

The advisory also includes resources from the CDC, HHS, HHS Office for Civil Rights, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Council for Behavioral Health and National Institute of Mental Health.