The pandemic is generating increasing concern about the long-term impact on health disparities in minority communities across the Garden State.

According to Dr. Damali Campbell-Oparaji, the president of the New Jersey Medical Association and an assistant professor at the Rutgers University Medical School, many medical practices in minority communities have been forced to close over the past seven months.

According to Rutgers Medical School, there is concern many of the Black-owned physician’s offices may ultimately be forced to shut down because of the pandemic, part of an estimated 41% of Black-owned businesses that will close.

Campbell-Oparaji said these offices are generally smaller, with limited budgets and staff, and when the pandemic began some were not able to make the quick changeover to a telehealth format.

“And then the patient’s ability to have these telehealth visits is also a factor,” she said. “If the doctor has it but the patient doesn’t have it, then it’s no use.”

She noted many physicians have also reported inadequate insurance compensation for telehealth visits, which makes it harder to stay operational.

Physician practices in communities of color may not have been able to get the small business loans needed to stay afloat when the lockdown began.

“The initial run of those loans was done with some of the larger banks, which many of the physician practices didn’t have relationships with those banks," she said.

Another problem has been workers in doctor’s offices themselves came down with COVID-19 or the doctors had to lay off staff because of financial considerations.

“It’s not just about whether you have the disease; it’s about your ability to manage the disease. It’s about your ability to get the medication, which can be very costly,” she said.

Of the 14,300 fatal COVID-19 victims in New Jersey, more than 18% have been Black people, who represent 15% of the state's total population.

Minority communities have historically had mistrust in the health care system rooted in prior experiences of institutional racism. However, they often do trust minority physicians and turn to them for care and medical information.

She also noted that getting to another doctor’s office may be a stumbling block because the patient may not have a car, and there may be resistance to seeing a new physician because it means recalling your medical history, prior problems and hospitalizations and other facts your regular doctor will have a detailed record of.

Campbell-Oparaji said in the short term it’s important to look for innovative ways to support physician practices in communities of color, including helping them to acquire sufficient personal protective equipment.

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