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Readers Respond

UMMS can do more for its low-income patients and neighbors | READER COMMENTARY

We read with interest the recent letter from the University of Maryland Medical System’s Roderick R. King and Dr. Joseph L. Wright (“UMMS focused on ending disparities in health care,” Feb. 24) as eliminating health care disparities is certainly a most worthy goal from one of the many local institutions complicit in the terrible inequities visible and invisible in Baltimore.

Alas, a client we share with UMMS just was discharged from a surgical hospitalization and was instructed to sleep in a recliner to reduce stress on her shoulder. An impoverished resident of public housing near UMMS, her providers must have known that she could not secure a recliner, nor did they offer to assist. Fortunately, her pro bono social worker, a faculty member of the University of Maryland Baltimore School of Social Work, did so. One of the first principles of community medicine is never to write prescriptions that cannot be filled.

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Further inequities are found in rates of pay. ProPublica reports that the CEO of the nonprofit UMMS entity was paid $2,102,885 in 2020, and the next top 19 senior managers were paid a combined $16,897,290. Concomitantly, UMMS recently announced a minimum wage of $15 per hour or $31,200 per year given a 40-hour work week. Thus, 19 managers receive the same remuneration as 541 minumum wage staff. The striking difference between the pay of these nonprofit managers and the staff who make the hospital function is a readily observed disparity.

Consider that the fair market rent in Baltimore for a two-bedroom apartment requires an hourly wage of $26.62. The UMMS minimum wage is only 56% of what is needed to house these employees’ families. The hospital should develop a plan to increase its minimum wage to a housing wage. Given Maryland’s Medicare waiver, its all-payer model and the outlandish pay of senior management, this goal is realistic and addresses a fundamental disparity.

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The gentrification and displacement of the community surrounding UMMS is another disparity that UMMS could tackle successfully. For example, the Poppleton neighborhood of primarily Black residents has been targeted for redevelopment against the wishes of those residents. UMMS could use its influence to support the residents, rather than the powerful and well-connected developer who received significant public dollars ($58 million tax increment financing) in pursuit of private profits.

Finally, perhaps the development expertise of the medical system and its partners could be reoriented toward producing permanent supportive housing for those experiencing homelessness in the UMMS environs. This is a disparity project that would generate universal applause.

If the leaders of UMMS are truly committed to moving forward, we have provided only a small sample of projects, so let’s get to work.

Lauren Siegel and Jeff Singer, Baltimore

The writers are adjunct faculty at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

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