Health unit aims to improve data collection to address systemic racism in health care

GUELPH – Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health is devising a plan to address gaps in its collection of data when it comes to race and ethnicity.

But the bigger picture is to address systemic racism in health care head-on to improve health outcomes for Indigenous and racialized people.

Dr. Matthew Tenenbaum, associate medical officer of health for WDGPH, told the board on Dec. 2 that the agency is now looking at the pandemic “through a racialized lens.”

Indigenous and racialized people “carry a high case burden of COVID-19 that is out of proportion” with the rest of the population and they have worse health outcomes, he said.

Racism is a public health issue because it impacts the health and wellbeing of individuals, and groups that experience racism are at a higher risk of negative health outcomes, he added.

“There are many inequities in health outcomes… Race and racism exists and there are structures in society that perpetuate that,” said Tenenbaum.

He explained that early in the pandemic, no race-based data was collected.

Now that it’s being collected, it’s showing inequities.

According to the report presented to the board, in the WDGPH region “35% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 and provided information about their race were visible minorities even though visible minorities account for only 11% of the … population.”

Provincial and national data also indicate:

  • African, Caribbean, Black Canadian, and South Asian adults are more than two times as likely to live with diabetes than white adults;
  • dementia rates are rising more rapidly among Indigenous populations;
  • visible minorities are more likely to experience poverty (14%) than non-visible minorities (9%) in the WDGPH region.

Tenenbaum said public health will meet with local Indigenous and racialized communities to understand the local experience of racism as it relates to health.

It will also expand the scope of data it collects and analyzes to include race-based information and see where it leads.

“You can’t respond to a thing if you don’t measure it,” Tenenbaum said.

Guelph councillor June Hofland asked if the plan will also look internally – training and diversity policies, for example – at the same time as this outward collection of data.

“This report is to set the table for addressing this issue,” Tenenbaum said.

“We will come at it with sensitivity and orient our actions thoughtfully.”

He said the board will receive periodic updates on progress.

“We started working on this in Minto,” said George Bridge, board chair and Minto mayor.

“It will be great to add public health to the mix as both a player and a partner.”