With the state of Michigan seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases over the past three weeks, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer started a Thursday news conference by urging residents to wear masks in public and observe social distancing measures to help slow the spread of the virus. The governor pointed to photos that went viral over the July 4th weekend of a large gathering on a beach in Cass County, which she said is the kind of setting that allows the disease to spread. Whitmer said tougher enforcement for those who don’t comply is under consideration.
The governor also announced an Executive Order requiring health care professionals to have implicit bias training. Her office released the following statement Thursday afternoon:
LANSING, Mich. — Governor Whitmer today signed Executive Directive 2020-7 which directs the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to begin developing rules that will require implicit bias training as part of the knowledge and skills necessary for licensure, registration and renewal of licenses and registrations of health professionals in Michigan. Implicit bias training was one of the recommendations made by the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, which Governor Whitmer created in response to the devastating and disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on communities of color.
“There’s no doubt that our front line health care workers like doctors and nurses have been the real heroes of this crisis, putting their lives on the line for us every day,” said Governor Whitmer. “COVID-19 has had a disparate impact on people of color due to a variety of factors, and we must do everything we can to address this disparity. The evidence shows that training in implicit bias can make a positive difference, so today we are taking action to help improve racial equity across Michigan’s health care system. That’s why my staff has begun this kind of training and every member of my team, including me, will complete this type of training on an annual basis.”
Since day one, both Governor Whitmer and Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II have been committed to making Michigan a more equitable state. During her State of the State Address this year, Governor Whitmer called for implicit bias training for all healthcare and medical professionals to combat racism felt across the healthcare industry.
“The existing health disparities highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic have made it clear that there is more work to do to ensure people of color have the same access to the same quality of health care as everyone else,” said Lt. Governor Gilchrist II, chair of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. “By providing awareness to health care workers on how to recognize and mitigate implicit bias, we can help them carry out their mission of providing the best health care to every patient they serve.”
As of July 5, Black Michiganders represented 14% of the state population, but 40% of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in which the race of the patient was known. COVID-19 is over four times more prevalent among Black Michiganders than among white Michiganders.
The National Healthcare Disparities Report concluded that white patients received care of a higher quality than Black, Hispanic, Indigenous and Asian Americans. People of color face more barriers to accessing health care than white people and are generally less satisfied with their interactions with health care providers.
“There is no question that our healthcare workers have risked their own lives and saved countless others during the COVID pandemic,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health. “But the fact is that implicit bias exists, and studies show that it can have an impact on health outcomes. Every healthcare professional should be trained in implicit bias so that we can make sure everyone, regardless of their race or ethnicity, has access to the highest quality care.”
“This is an excellent step in the right direction, I applaud our Governor for addressing this issue and as Chair of the Board of Medicine, I stand ready to work with our board members and the Administration to establish implicit biased training for physicians,” said Micheal Chafty, MD, Chair of the Michigan Board of Medicine.
Under Executive Directive 2020-7, LARA is required to consult with relevant stakeholders in the medical profession, in state government and elsewhere in the community by November 1, 2020 to help determine relevant goals and concerns under the new rules. LARA will work in collaboration with the relevant professional boards and task forces to promulgate the rules.