Dr. Alric Simmonds, AdventHealth’s health equity officer, says trust and education are keys to curing health disparities in minority communities highlighted by the pandemic.

Speaking during the hospital’s at today’s weekly AdventHealth Morning Briefing, he said higher incidents of complications and death from COVID-19 among Blacks and Latinos are symptoms of longstanding health and economic inequities.

“Unfortunately, the data bears that out prior to COVID, but COVID has really been an exemplar for the disparities and inequities in health care that we’ve seen,” said Simmonds, who is also a surgeon and chief medical officer at AdventHealth Celebration.

He said social and economic risk factors such as a person’s inability to work from home, unstable housing or the need to use public transit combined with lack of access to regular care for conditions like diabetes or asthma put people at greater risk during the pandemic.

As a result, some Black and Latino patients don’t receive care until they are at a later stage of disease or are already compromised with underlying conditions that make treating COVID-19 more difficult. To address the problems, Simmonds said AdventHealth is working on efforts to educate more people on risk factors such as partnering with churches or fraternities and sororities to let people know about the safety of the vaccine and other health information.

“The key is getting trust,” he said, pointing to the historical mistreatment of African Americans and Native Americans by the medical establishment as reasons why some may be hesitant to take the vaccine or see a doctor. While vaccine supply is still ramping up, Simmonds encouraged people to educate themselves about its safety now so that when they have the opportunity to get the vaccine they can do so right away. He also said people must continue to wear masks, wash their hands and stay socially distanced.

He was optimistic about another slight drop in COVID-19 hospitals across AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division. “We continue to see a decline in the number of hospitalized cases and we continue to see an increase in the number of people who are getting vaccinated,” Simmonds said. “We obviously can’t take our guard down, but that is a good trajectory that we’re on currently.”