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Louisville health officials working to address health disparities beyond the pandemic

Rhonda Mathies sits at a table as she receives a COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year.
Rhonda Mathies of Louisville receives the coronavirus vaccine at an outreach event hosted by the Louisville Urban League earlier this year. The Center for Health Equity at the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness is and U of L Health has partnered with community organizations to help provide better information, access to vaccines, which has opened doors to address wider health issues.

Louisville officials say they will continue to address health disparities in underserved communities, during the pandemic and beyond. 

Dr. Edward Miller, obstetrician and chief diversity officer at University of Louisville Health, said in the early days of the pandemic, he and others saw the disproportionate impact the virus could have on communities of color that already had long standing health disparities. 

“And we knew that COVID was going to highlight and exacerbate these disparities even further,” he said. 

To help bridge barriers to care, U of L partnered with churches and community agencies to help better reach residents with information about, and access to, vaccines and testing. 

The Center for Health Equity at the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness has also partnered with dozens of agencies to host community listening sessions, addressing COVID and other health concerns. 

Miller said it’s given him more opportunities to talk about other things – to help improve residents’ overall health. 

“It’s conversation, it's breaking down barriers, and it's breaking down reasons for apprehension which are so layered and so different between West Louisville, and other areas of Louisville, and all the patients that we serve,” he said. 

The health department’s Center for Health Equity hopes to broaden these improvements in part through a $4.2 million health disparities grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last summer. 

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said he’s proud of the work that’s been done to address health inequity but knows there's more to do. 

“We do know that racial disparities can only widen if we don't focus on them and we don't work with intentionality, which clearly we’ve been doing and I’m proud of our team for that,” he said. 

Health officials reported just over 12,000 new COVID-19 cases over the past seven days, down from around 14,000 the week before and 16,000 the week before that. 

The incidence rate in Jefferson County is now 227.5 new cases per 100,000 residents – down from the more than 300 seen a few weeks ago. The positivity rate dropped below 30% for the first time in weeks.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.