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New laws address health care equity, safety in hospitals

Laws on topics including police reform, LBGTQ rights, veterans' benefits, balloon releases and others will take effect in Maryland on Oct. 1.

Some other new laws address disparities in health care and safety in hospitals. Neither issue is new in the health care field.

Washington County's Meritus Health this summer launched efforts to address health care inequities after its own study revealed disparities in care. That initiative includes efforts to fix communications issues, among other concerns.

"The reality is we've known this for years in health care, unfortunately," Maulik Joshi, president and CEO of Meritus Health, said at the time. "And it's not, again, a problem that has just surfaced over the last decade, but it's literally hundreds of years of systemic inequities. But now we have the data."

The Meritus study found six areas of concern.

For example, it found that the pre-term birth rate was 27% higher for Black and Hispanic or Latino patients combined compared to white patients, and 50% higher for Spanish-speaking patients compared to English-speaking patients.

In another example, opioids were administered to white patients in the emergency department at a 21% higher rate than Black patients and Hispanic or Latino patients combined. And average time in the emergency department was 11% higher for Spanish-speaking patients than for English-speaking patients.

In all, the study identified a half-dozen areas of concern.

"We looked at well over a dozen measures, and these six are the ones where we found disparities in care," Joshi said. 

According to the Maryland Hospital Association, the new laws that focus on health care disparities include:

  • Implicit Bias Training and the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities (SB5/HB28) — Among other things, it requires all health care professionals to attest to completing an approved implicit bias training program the first time they renew their licenses after April 1, 2022.
  • Maryland Commission on Health Equity (The Shirley Nathan-Pulliam Health Equity Act of 2021, SB52/HB78) — Establishes the Maryland Commission on Health Equity, comprised of leaders of state agencies, to employ a health equity framework for policy changes throughout the state.
  • Race and Ethnicity Information (SB565/HB309) — Empowers Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities to ensure data on health disparities and health inequities is available and transparent. The bill updates requirements for the annual Health Care Disparities Report Card and requires each health occupation board to include an option for all licensees to report their race and ethnicity when renewing their licenses.

Another new law will target safety in hospitals. HB289 allows an employer to file a petition for a peace order on behalf of an employee if a specific act is committed against the employee at work.

The hospital association cited Occupational Safety and Health Administration data showing that of the 25,000 incidents of violence reported across all workplaces annually, 75% occur in health care or social service facilities. Based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care and social service workers are five times as likely to be injured in the workplace.

“Allowing a hospital representative to petition for a peace order on behalf of an employee is another tool to help protect our health care heroes and preserve hospitals as safe places of hope and healing," Bob Atlas, MHA president and CEO, said in a news release.

This article first published in The Herald-Mail and on HeraldMailMedia.com in September 2021.