October 7, 2009

Institutions Serving Health Needs of Poor Strained by H1N1

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Dr. Barbara Ferrer, head of the Boston Public Health Commission, talks about how her city is responding and which populations groups are seeing the worst.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer:

One worry that I have and that I share with, with other folks across the country is what--a series outbreak in our city will do to an already fragile system of care, particularly for those most vulnerable.

And here I'm talking about the institutions that serve people who may not have insurance or may not have good insurance or who maybe in this country without their papers and therefore not able to get easy access to care. Or who maybe serving, people who have very complicated lives and complicating health conditions, cause you know in, in many ways those services are already very vulnerable across our country and are going to be made possibly even more vulnerable as we have to redirect programming dollars and service dollars to respond to a flu epidemic.

I'm going to be real about this, in Boston the most who are most affected by influenza-like illness, are people of color. They were affected disproportionate to their numbers in the population. Three-quarters of all the people who were hospitalized in the City of Boston for influenza were blacks and Latinos and they do not make up three-quarters of the population, they make up about 45 percent of the population.

Many of the people who were most affected by influenza-like illness, were people who were low income people, how wage workers, and people who in fact struggle in their day-to-day lives already. And those people--are, are dependent on a whole host of services that they're able to get from safety net institutions in the City of Boston, and I'm talking primarily of our community health centers and some of our hospitals.

So if they already are in need of extra services and supports because of their economic condition and because of--underlying health conditions, that they're more affected by like asthma then the general public. And now they're also more likely to be seriously ill from influenza then other populations, and they're going to seek care at the very same institutions, those institutions will in fact--have a great burden placed on them then other institutions across the country.

And we need to be mindful of that and we need to make sure that the, the funding for responding to influenza follows the patterns that we see around who's getting ill and where those people have to go to seek their care.