Communicating about Health Equity: Why Is There So Much Hesitancy among Communication Professionals?
by Chelsea Dade
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” said George Bernard.
I’ve been thinking about the phrase that is circumventing our society, “stay safe at home.” While it’s used as advice to the general public, this term means different things to different people.
What if you lack a home? What if you are in an abusive relationship? What if you cannot afford basic amenities to live?
As communication professionals, we have to acknowledge that one common message cannot always translate, in words or in actions, for everyone. Just because a message is received, doesn't mean everyone can act upon that message.
I’m a Health Communication Specialist who believes in the power of communication to improve health equity. But I’ve found that there is a great deal of hesitation when it comes to health communication professionals communicating about health equity. I’ve broken my hypothesis into three probable reasons.
Policy change has the ability to impact health and social outcomes during pandemics such as this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak. As we know, the COVID-19 pandemic does not discriminate on the basis of geography or whether or not someone has a home where they can shelter-in-place. Rates of infection have been concerning both across urban and rural areas, including New York City and its suburbs, and rural areas in Louisiana, as well as international settings such as Lombardy, Italy. Reducing exposure to COVID-19 is critical to limit infections. As recommended by public health and medical experts, exposure to the virus can be reduced by closing schools, limiting operations of or closing non-essential services, staying home (if you have one) and practicing social distancing. In addition, fair public policies are essential for managing hospitals, COVID-19 testing, and the utilization of ventilators for patients in Intensive Care Units (ICUs).
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) includes an Employee Paid Sick Leave Rights provision. Yet, due to the economic disruption COVID-19 has caused, such a provision is insufficient to address ongoing financial insecurities faced by employees—whether they qualify or not for FFCRA benefits. In fact, the FFCRA and the related Paid Sick Leave legislation further expose a variety of health and social inequities that are concerning. Namely, FFCRA does not meet the needs of people who are historically and disproportionately impacted by poverty, which often goes hand in hand with low or no health insurance coverage (1,2). People who don’t qualify for FFCRA benefits and are also disproportionately impacted by poverty are likely to feel challenged by any potential decision of staying home, and reducing exposure, and instead may feel they should go to work, where unfortunately, their risk for contracting COVID-19 would increase.