Assembly Health Committee clears Sumter, Jimenez bill to create COVID-19 task force

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The New Jersey Assembly Health Committee cleared a bill introduced by Shavonda Sumter (D-35) and Angelica Jimenez (D-32) that would create a task force to study racial and health disparities related to COVID-19 cases.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Bill (A-4004) would create a 21-member Coronavirus Disease Pandemic Task Force on Racial and Health Disparities in the New Jersey Department of Health.

The group would conduct a thorough and comprehensive study of how the pandemic has affected minority and vulnerable communities in New Jersey, as well as the short- and long-term consequences for these communities.

“Long before the COVID-19 pandemic began, people of color faced enormous disparities in our healthcare system,” Sumter said in a statement.

“African-American and Latino mothers saw higher mortality rates. A disproportionate number of minority families lacked access to health insurance and care. And now communities of color are being impacted by COVID-19 at an alarming rate. We need to understand how and why these disparities are happening, and what we can do to mitigate the harm this pandemic has caused.”

The task force will be charged with improving existing data systems to ensure race, ethnicity and demographic information is included in data on COVID-19 infections and deaths.

It will also evaluate access to and quality of treatment delivered to various racial and ethnic populations, and develop strategies to address and reduce racial, ethnic and health disparities and systemic inequalities that have amplified the COVID-19 death rate among minority and vulnerable communities.

“This public health crisis has exacerbated deep inequities across New Jersey, particularly racial health disparities. Communities of color have shouldered a large burden in this pandemic, and will undoubtedly need unique assistance to recover,” added Jimenez.

“The work of this task force will help us get a clearer picture of the extent of the pandemic’s toll on these communities, and continue our efforts to promote health equity for all.”

Additionally, the task force would hold three public hearings, either in-person or remotely, as appropriate, in the northern, central and southern regions of the state to hear testimony from community members on their experiences during the pandemic.

At the hearing, the committee would evaluate communications, messages and modes of dissemination regarding testing, contact tracing, and other related public health matters to achieve health care equity and cultural competence.

Other issues  that would be evaluated include the impact of COVID-19 on mental and physical health of essential workers; access to childcare services; and the prevalence of intimate partner violence, among others.

The task force would include the following:

• The Chief Diversity Officer of New Jersey

•  A representative of the NJ Department of Health whose duties or expertise includes expanding access by minority populations to clinically appropriate healthcare services or eliminating discrimination in the implementation of healthcare programs policies, or initiatives

•  A representative of the NJ Department of Community Affairs

•  A representative of the NJ Department of Human Services; a representative of the Department of Children and Families

•  A representative of the NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency

• A representative from the Office of Emergency Management

• Two members of the state Senate, one of whom shall be a member of the New Jersey Black Legislative Caucus, and one of whom shall be a member of the New Jersey Latino Caucus: both appointed by the senate president

• Two members of the state Assembly, one of whom shall be a member of the New Jersey Black Legislative Caucus, and one whom shall be a member of the New Jersey Latino Caucus, appointed by the assembly speaker

• 10 public members appointed by the governor         

The bill now heads to the assembly speaker for further consideration.

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