In this day and age of all that is going on with nursing homes, it is important to focus on areas that don’t get much attention right now, but that are, nonetheless, critically important in our society.  

Call me old, but the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. and the importance of his legacy just seems to ring more true today than it has for me in the last several decades. In this age of heightened awareness in our country of inequities in healthcare, King’s impact can and should be felt by all. As King stated, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

On March 25, 1966, in Chicago at a press conference before his speech at the second convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, King said (in part):

“We are concerned about the constant use of federal funds to support this most notorious expression of segregation. Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.”

King’s remarks highlighted, even back in 1966, not only the social inequities of the time, but also the healthcare inequities, which continue in full force today. Indeed, much has been written and discussed regarding the impact of COVID-19 on certain minority segments of our society, shedding a much needed light on the “social determinants of health” – focusing on attention to poverty, racism, education and housing in healthcare.

During COVID-19, we have found out that socially disadvantaged areas — disproportionately minority populations — were most negatively affected by the lack of healthcare, resulting in disproportionate infections, and even deaths, in those areas.

How does this link to nursing homes? Well, we can all do our part to increase the visibility of this social inequity problem in healthcare. Indeed, new rules were developed just last year by the Department of Health and Human Services to address discrimination in healthcare under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. Here’s a refresher from last October on what I wrote about them.

So implementing these new rules by healthcare providers can help to eliminate disparities in healthcare that are tied to race, ethnicity or even sexual orientation, all designed to combat inequities posed by social determinants of health for certain populations.  

Another way that would help solve the problem of healthcare inequities, as well as the staffing problem in long-term care, is further recruitment of minority staff. Having more minorities in healthcare may help shed light on King’s warning of the “injustice in health” by providing perspectives of different demographic populations and their own experiences with healthcare. By employing more minorities in healthcare, perhaps we can help identify and address some of the disparities in healthcare going forward. Many facilities have already expanded staffing recruiting in this direction, to broaden the net of available staff.  

So hopefully King’s legacy can someday be fulfilled. By having more minorities in long-term care, perhaps we can shed light on any healthcare injustices that might exist, whether they deal with racial, ethnic or the major problem of sexual orientation discrimination in senior care.

Certainly, long term care has a long way to go to increase its diversity in resident populations nationwide. Striving to achieve greater access to healthcare for minorities is one step toward achieving King’s goal of equality everywhere.  

Neville M. Bilimoria is a partner in the Chicago office of the Health Law Practice Group and member of the Post-Acute Care And Senior Services Subgroup at Duane Morris LLP; [email protected]

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.