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Michigan prepares for bias training for health workers to help address health disparities

‘We all have some form of implicit bias,’ Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says, and it’s important to ‘use proven methods to lessen the impact of that bias.’

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Cory Morse / The Grand Rapis Press via AP

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan has finalized a requirement that all 440,000 licensed or registered health workers in the state undergo yearly training on hidden bias, in a step to help address disparities in how patients are treated.

The rule, which was initially ordered by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last July, will take effect on June 1, 2022.

Health workers renewing their license or registration will have to complete at least one hour of training each year. New applicants will be required to receive at least two hours initially. Only those in veterinary medicine will be exempt.

“We all have some form of implicit bias,” the Democratic governor said. “We’ve got to acknowledge that and use proven methods to lessen the impact of that bias that we all bring to the table.”

Whitmer said the coronavirus pandemic has exposed and worsened inequities such as the disparate impact of health outcomes by race.

Last year, she ordered state employees to complete implicit bias training. Implicit bias is defined as the attitudes or stereotypes that affect people’s understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner, according to the Kirwin Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University.

The governor’s actions stem from a recommendation by the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, which she created more than a year ago.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, who chairs the group, said “medical bias can be interjected each time a decision needs to be made in ways that could be a detriment to people needing care.”

Black people make up 14% of Michigan’s population but account for at least 21% of 20,000-plus confirmed or probable deaths tied to COVID-19.

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