Photograph of a mother and child sitting in an exam room and speaking with a medical professional who is holding a computer tablet.

Closing disparities in access to healthcare

A new collaboration aims to reduce disparities in preventable diseases in historically underserved communities of color

No one disputes that better health can lead to a longer life. But the benefits go far beyond that — better health can also lead to a more prosperous life. In fact, in communities where residents enjoy better health, unemployment rates are lower and incomes are higher.footnote1

Unfortunately, too many communities across the United States do not have sufficient access to what is needed to live healthier lives. In communities of color, generations of lack of access to care and health resources have contributed to poorer health outcomes. So, while there has been an overall decline in mortality rates for preventable diseases across the country, the mortality rates for diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and certain types of cancer remain notably higher in Black communities, while Hispanic-Latino and Native American populations experience a high number of diabetes-related deaths.footnote2 And while the causes of these disparities are complex, one thing is clear: “It’s a misperception that people are entirely responsible for their own health,” says Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, chief medical officer for prevention for the American Heart Association.“When we tell people, ‘you gotta eat healthier and be physically active,’ we’re not understanding the context of their lives.”

Access to healthier foods, including fresh produce, is a hardship in many underserved urban and rural communities. These areas, known as food deserts, are more likely to be found in neighborhoods that are plagued by underinvestment, underdevelopment and lower rates of employment.footnote3 Such conditions have a huge impact on the long-term quality of life for the residents. “As a society, we sometimes blame individuals for their health problems while not giving them the tools they need to manage for the environment that they’re in,” says Sanchez.

Lower incomes also come into play when considering health. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the median income for Black households in 2020 is $45,870, and for Hispanic-Latinos it is $55,321, compared to $74,912 for white households.footnote4 Earning less can limit access to quality health insurance and associated care, which is increasingly linked to not just healthier lives but also to longer ones.footnote5 Because of the interlinked nature of health and wealth, addressing the issues associated with preventable diseases can have a multiplier effect — not only will it improve individuals’ physical lives, it may also provide greater economic mobility.

Leveling the playing field

To improve health outcomes in communities of color, Bank of America is working with the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association and the American Cancer Society, and will focus on three key areas in each community: education and capacity building for health systems, partners and patients; increasing access to health screenings and preventive care; and advocating for policies that ensure fair opportunities and resources with state and local leaders.


"Programs like these save lives, prolong lives and improve the quality of life for all who are able to participate."


Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, chief Medical Officer for Prevention for the American Heart Association

Dr. Eduardo Sanchez

At the heart of the effort is a four-year, $25 million commitment to provide health education, preventive services and community outreach, all focused on disease prevention. Initially focusing on 11 communities across the country, the initiative will drive collaboration with local health and community organizations to focus on the leading causes of death in communities of color — heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes — and improving health outcomes more broadly, including in maternal health, mental wellness and nutrition.

“Bringing these leading national nonprofits together to work hand in hand with local organizations in each community is one way we hope to drive the long-term change needed to advance health outcomes in communities across the country,” says Ebony Thomas, Racial Equality and Economic Opportunity executive at Bank of America.

“Programs like these can be gamechangers,” says Sanchez. “They save lives, prolong lives and improve the quality of life for all who are able to participate.” The initiative will also support other issues that impact communities of color, including social determinants of health and overall wellbeing. To scale this work further, the University of Michigan School of Public Health will measure progress and impact on health outcomes through robust evaluation as part of the initiative.

Advancing racial equality and economic opportunity is critical to the long-term health of local communities and the country as a whole. Learn more about Bank of America’s efforts to provide communities with greater access to healthcare, employment opportunity, affordable housing and small business support.

Healthy communities mean a better economy,” BlueCross Blue Shield, 2017

1

Income and Poverty in the United States: 2020,” United States Census Bureau, 2021

4

The Effects of Medicaid Expansion Under the ACA,” Kaiser Family Foundation, March 2020

5

5/17/2022