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A study published in the journal Health Affairs reveals a huge disparity in the quality of nursing home care provided to whites and blacks, with Milwaukee’s nursing home disparity ranked the greatest.

The abstract of the study, appearing on the health policy journal’s website, states:

We describe the racial segregation in U.S. nursing homes and its relationship to racial disparities in the quality of care. Nursing homes remain relatively segregated, roughly mirroring the residential segregation within metropolitan areas. As a result, blacks are much more likely than whites to be located in nursing homes that have serious deficiencies, lower staffing ratios, and greater financial vulnerability. Changing health care providers’ behavior will not be sufficient to eliminate disparities in medical treatment in nursing homes. Persistent segregation among homes poses a substantial barrier to progress.

Clearly, poverty and the economics of nursing home care are at play here. Taking care of this vulnerable population, the sick and elderly, requires attentive and skilled care. As the African-American elderly population has a disproportionate number of Medicaid-supported nursing home residents, with low reimbursement rates, the nursing homes that care for them are unwilling or unable to spend what is needed to afford high quality staff and facilities. At the same time, these nursing home residents may have the greatest health needs because they have not had the opportunity for well-care throughout their lives, producing chronic health conditions that may be challenging to treat without adequate resources.

The study focused on data from the year 2000. But there is no reason to think that there have been improvements since then because the conditions that have created the disparities–poverty, segregation, and inadequate resources– have not changed. As a society, we are going to have to do something about this. We have a moral obligation to do so.

For more information on this subject matter, please refer to the section on Medical Malpractice and Negligent Care.

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