Dr. Betty Bibbins receives her COVID-19 vaccination

Hampton Roads has some of the most significant public health disparities in the country — and the pandemic has increased the barriers to care faced by many in the region.

That’s one of several key takeaways from a series of virtual listening sessions conducted by EVMS over the past five months. The ongoing series has so far engaged more than 700 community members to talk about their experiences during the pandemic and how EVMS and other area institutions can help residents of southeastern Virginia move forward with better health outcomes in the future.
“Business as usual isn’t working for people, and it hasn’t worked for a long time,” writes Betty Bibbins, MD, BSN (MD ’82), a member of the EVMS Board of Visitors, in an editorial detailing the findings of the sessions. “Pick your health problem and the data hold the same pattern.”

Dr. Bibbins (pictured above) detailed stark realities for people of color living in Hampton Roads, including that prostate cancer kills Black men in Portsmouth at a rate nearly three times greater than white men. Meanwhile, in Norfolk, Black maternal and infant mortality is three times greater. She also highlighted the need for easier-to-access primary care and improved community-based education.

“Even the best-resourced families are advised to ‘be an advocate’ for themselves, but if you’re not a medical professional, there’s a lot you don’t know that you don’t know,” she writes. “That challenge is far greater for low-income families and the elderly.”

A final takeaway for Dr. Bibbins: When community members discuss these challenging issues, they want to be heard in a real and sustained way.

“Even as a Black, female doctor, I was surprised so many thanked us for being the first institution to seek and listen to their views without agenda and a commitment to respond to their suggestions,” she writes. “Participants were very clear that they wanted these to become ongoing consultation, not a one-off.”