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OR Nurses Conference Explores Fairness in Health Outcomes

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Thursday, August 5, 2021   

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oregon nurses are holding a conference today on an important topic facing the health industry: equitable outcomes for patients.

The Oregon Nurses Association's Health Equity Conference in Portland today and Friday is focusing on the different outcomes from the health system for people of color. For instance, the maternal mortality rate for Black women is three times the rate that it is for white women.

Deborah Riddick, public policy and government relations director for the Oregon Nurses Association, said nurses interact with patients at every level of care.

"If we have that amount of access to patients, to communities, to their families, then it would make sense that if there's a problem like health equity, that we would be the ideal folks to be able to plug the gap and be able to use some of our knowledge and our skills to address the problem," Riddick contended.

During the pandemic, Oregonians of color have faced disproportionate health impacts. Hispanic Oregonians make up 13% of the state's population but are nearly 30% of COVID-19 cases where the ethnicity is known, according to state data.

D. Watkins, editor at large for Salon who is speaking at the Health Equity Conference, said stigmas around health care especially are strong for Black communities, and pointed out the words health professionals use are important.

"Sometimes, basic things like the way we use language when we talk about patients or when patients talk about these different institutions is the root of the problem," Watkins explained. "And it's what we need to fix if we want to be strong, and we want to solve a lot of the problems that we have."

The Oregon Nurses Association has been working to promote health equity in the state through the Legislature. Riddick noted the union pushed for a bill this session that would have declared racism a public health crisis.

"Unfortunately, there was not enough support for the bill that it ultimately was reduced down to simply a resolution," Riddick lamented. "A lot of the things that required funding were pulled out, which was a great disappointment to many of the community members that worked throughout the session around the bill."

Despite the bill not passing, Riddick emphasized it was a good learning experience for pushing this type of policy. She added the House bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, is on a panel at the conference.

Disclosure: Oregon Nurses Association (AFT Local 5905) contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Health Issues, and Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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