Whitmer, Gilchrist call for implicit bias training for health care workers

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II are bolstering efforts to take on the racial disparities that the coronavirus pandemic has shined a renewed light on, deploying new rules for Michigan's health care professionals that will mandate implicit bias training as part of the overall skills necessary to continue working in the field.

During a press conference Thursday, the governor and Lt. governor outlined a new executive order that requires anyone applying for a license or renewing their license to work in health care to receive implicit bias training - one of the recommendations made by the state's coronavirus task force on racial disparities, which is led by Gilchrist. 

"When you look at treatment, we need to realize that implicit medical bias can be interjected at any point when someone has to make a choice or a decision. The task force took immediate action to make sure that medical providers were aware of how this disease is impacting racial and ethnic minorities," said Gilchrist. 

A commonly cited statistic finds that black Michigan residents represent 14% of the state's population, but 40% of the deaths. A combination of averse health outcomes that stem from environmental factors, historically racist housing policies, less access to health care, and other services have exasperated the outcomes for black residents, said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive with the state.

"Health care disparities and inequitable access to opportunities to be healthy are unfortunately something that has existed in this country for centuries," Khaldun said. "There's data that shows, as we've discussed, that implicit bias exists and has an impact on the quality of care that people of color receive, whether it's not offering a treatment plan, dismissing a patient's complaints or not being sensitive to cultural differences."

The new mandate is part of a larger focus from executives at the local and state level to incorporate racial equity in decisions pertaining to public health and law enforcement.

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The order requires the state's licensing association to work with health care professionals to update the rules by Nov. 1, 2020. 

Gilchrist said Michigan was one of the first states to start releasing COVID-19 data as it pertains to race, and continues to be one of the only ones to do so. 

"I hope that our leadership shown by establishing and implementing of this racial disparities task force, and continuing its work going forward, will be a beacon of light for other states to emulate so that they too can address that disparities that exist in their respective communities," he said.

Whitmer added implicit bias training will also be mandatory for her and the executive office.