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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

Minority Health Strike Force Preparing Final Recommendations

a photo of Charles Modlin with a patient
Dr. Charles Modlin of the Cleveland Clinic chairs the Education and Outreach Subcommittee of the Minority Health Strike Force. The other subcommittees working to craft final recommendations include Healthcare, Data and Research and Resources.

By the end of this month, a group working to address the disproportionate affect COVID-19 has had on African-Americans in Ohio is expected to issue its final recommendations.

The Minority Health Strike Force was appointed by Governor Mike DeWine in April. Some have criticized how long it’s taken for these recommendations to come to fruition.

But one member of the group says it’s been taking its time to refine recommendations that are actionable. Dr. Charles Modlin is a surgeon and urologist at Cleveland Clinic who heads the Clinic’s Minority Men’s Health Center. He chairs the education and outreach subcommittee of the strike force. 

CHARLES MODLIN: This is not just about COVID. These recommendations also recognize that we have to address the chronic health conditions, the healthcare disparities, the social determinants of health, that 

a photo of Charles ModlinCharles Modlin, MD, MBA, FACS, is a surgeon and urologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

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disadvantaged, minority populations (experience) and make them more susceptible to acquiring and dying from COVID.

SARAH TAYLOR: Are you concerned at all with how long it's taken, and maybe some of the language that has been used by the governor because some state legislators feel like he has not fully acknowledged the role of racism in these health disparities? Do you see a role there and do you want the governor to more readily acknowledge that?

CHARLES MODLIN: Race and racism we understand is a social determinant of health. It’s a public health crisis, basically. It leads to distrust of the healthcare system. It leads to many minorities not wanting to go to get screened. It leads to decreased access to the healthcare system.

I think the governor actually does recognize that race and racism does play a role in terms of ultimate health outcomes. I think the whole country is more aware now than ever before, given some of the recent occurrences in Minnesota and now occurring across the entire nation.

One thing the strike force is doing that we're looking throughout the state to look at best practices that are working to better engage minority populations to undergo preventative health screenings, to you know, adopt healthier lifestyles whenever possible. We understand this is not all the fault of the individual. It's the social determinants, the environments and living conditions and poverty conditions in which they find themselves in many situations. But we have to empower individuals with the knowledge and the health literacy to understand that, collectively we can work together. So I would say the governor understands. I'm not so sure that everybody, every leader, every elected official in the United States understands, but I think we're moving in the right direction in the state of Ohio.

SARAH TAYLOR: Speaking of elected officials there is a state senator who was a physician, I guess he still is a physician, but has lost his position. He made a comment in a committee hearing that was an ignorant comment. That is kind of indicative, potentially, of why minorities may not seek the care, because they're not treated in a healthcare setting in a respectful way. What's your reaction to what was said? And how problematic is it that this person is an elected official in Ohio?

CHARLES MODLIN: Sure. And, you know, I mean, I think a lot of these comments may have been pervasive not just now, but before we didn't necessarily have public television, cable television, you know, or 24 hour news cycles, social media, to really be aware of what was going on and what was being said in private situations.

You know, he made a comment about the hand washing, maybe, you know, just kind of a blanket statement. And, you know, again, it's unfortunate. A lot of individuals from the minority community, like you said do not trust hospitals, healthcare system, health care institutions, medical researchers, because they do feel like they are going to be disrespected, used as guinea pigs.

And there's, in many instances, maybe healthcare providers are not culturally competent, culturally sensitive. And, you know, if you don't have culturally competent healthcare providers, that will interfere with the communication between the patient and the physician or  the caregivers.

We have to ensure that our elected officials are culturally competent. And understand that what they say can have devastating effects, lasting effects. It can affect the behavior of people who hear what they say. It can turn people off, dissuade people from seeking health care opportunities that are available.

Dr. Charles Modlin of the Cleveland Clinic is a member of the governor’s Minority Strike Force on COVID-19. Modlin says cultural competence and implicit bias training will be included in the strike force’s recommendations.

Modlin credits leadership at the Cleveland Clinic for diversity initiatives that include training for every employee about the importance of cultural competence. 

The Minority Strike Force will also be recommending a communications plan to better engage minority communities. "It's important that we tell the black community why it is they are at greater risk. And that's going to be part of the campaign," he said.

The Cleveland Clinic has created a public service announcement featuring African-American physicians that shares a similar message. 

A Northeast Ohio native, Sarah Taylor graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where she worked at her first NPR station, WMUB. She began her professional career at WCKY-AM in Cincinnati and spent two decades in television news, the bulk of them at WKBN in Youngstown (as Sarah Eisler). For the past three years, Sarah has taught a variety of courses in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State, where she is also pursuing a Master’s degree. Sarah and her husband Scott, have two children. They live in Tallmadge.