Study finds that higher death rates for Black COVID patients tied to hospital quality

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Thursday, July 15, 2021
Study finds disparities with Black COVID patients in local hospitals
A new study by Penn Medicine shows that with one change, the death rate among African-Americans hospitalized with COVID could be 10% lower.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A new study by Penn Medicine shows that with one change, the death rate among African-Americans hospitalized with COVID could be 10% lower.

It continues the research showing disparities in outcomes during the coronavirus crisis.

"Black patients have tended to do worse than white patients with COVID all through the process," said Dr. David Asch, professor at The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Wharton School.

Asch is also the director of the Center for Healthcare Innovation.

His research looked at data from about 1,200 hospitals across 40 states.

It found that death rates were higher for Black patients hospitalized with COVID than for white patients.

"Perhaps the main reason that Black patients tend to have worse outcomes than white patients is because they go to hospitals that provide worse care for all," said Asch.

Those hospitals are more likely to be in Black neighborhoods.

"I think it's a story of racial residential segregation," said Asch. "Most people go to hospitals near where they live. And we fund hospitals very much by local resources. It's sort of how we fund public schools."

The study found that the death rate for Black patients would be 10% lower if they went to the same hospitals as white patients.

"If Black patients had gone to the same hospitals as white patients and in the same proportion, in relative terms, their mortality would be about 10% less and would be almost exactly the same as the mortality than white patients had," added Asch. "So this is really a story of which hospital you go to, much more than a story of who you are."

RELATED: Concerns about local "vaccine deserts" as COVID-19 delta variant dominates

The 6abc data team looked into local statistics. They found that African-American COVID hospitalization rates in Philadelphia were almost double that of white residents.

The death rate for Black Philadelphians was about 15% higher than whites.

But Black Philadelphians who were hospitalized died at lower rates than whites who were hospitalized. That could be a commentary on the city's healthcare system as a whole.

"Philadelphia has outstanding healthcare compared to other parts of the nation," said Ash.

He adds that more hospitals across the country could also have better outcomes if they had better funding.

"Hospitals receive their financing largely through the insurance payments of their patients. Those payments will differ depending on how wealthy the surrounding community is. If it's very wealthy, the hospital gets payments from commercial insurance, which pays much more than Medicare, which is the federal insurance program for older Americans. And much, much more than Medicaid, which is the federal and state program for people who are low income," said Asch.

One person who knows how life-saving quality healthcare can be is Philadelphia's own sports super-fan, Monty G. He survived a bout with COVID last summer that left him in a coma for a month.

"I was on a ventilator for a month. I had a trach in my throat," Monty G said while sitting in his South Philadelphia home.

Monty G underwent rehabilitation to learn how to walk again after a partial paralysis due to COVID.

"I thought I was going to die," he said.

Hearing about the research showing higher mortality rates among African Americans doesn't surprise him since he was once admittedly one of the people who didn't take COVID seriously. But now, he's using his story of survival to help others.