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Inequality, Vulnerability, and Health Justice: Learning from the Pandemic

Data from the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States reveal stark disparities in vulnerability to infection and illness by race, ethnicity, income, immigration status, and neighborhood. Vulnerabilities produced by social inequalities are health inequities, a form of injustice.

This webinar features perspectives from Texas, Colorado, and New York on learning from Covid-19 to work toward justice in health, focusing on Black health, immigrant health, and the role of health systems. Register Here


Keisha Ray, PhD, Assistant Professor, McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, McGovern Medical School, University of Texas Health Science Center

Keisha Ray earned a PhD in philosophy from the University of Utah. Before becoming an assistant professor with the McGovern Center for Humanities & Ethics, she was an assistant professor of philosophy at Texas State University, a postdoctoral fellow with the McGovern Center, a lecturer at various universities in Texas and Utah, and a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of South Carolina.

Most of Dr. Ray’s work focuses on the social determinants of racial disparities in health and health care and incorporating race education into medical school curricula. Additionally, she works on justice questions related to biomedical enhancement. She also has interests in bioethics in general, biomedical research ethics, and medical humanities.

She has contributed to peer-reviewed journals, edited volumes, and textbooks and currently has two monographs in progress on racial disparities in health. Dr. Ray was also appointed as an associate editor of the American Journal of Bioethics online blog site to which she is a regular contributor.

Lilia Cervantes, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Hospital Medicine and Office of Research, Denver Health

Lilia Cervantes, MD, is a bilingual Latina physician who grew up facing poverty in Denver, Colorado and with English as her second language. Her background directly informed her deep commitment to becoming a physician as well as her community service, programs, health policy activism, and research focused on promoting social justice in medical education and health equity.

Dr. Cervantes has worked as a hospitalist physician at Denver Health, the safety-net hospital for the city of Denver for over 10 years, and has been inspired by the richly diverse patients to use her unique lens as a Latina physician to build a culture of health. In 2009, Dr. Cervantes launched the Healthcare Interest Program (HIP), bringing together Universities (University of Colorado Denver Auraria campus, Regis, and Metro State University) and Denver based community organizations to increase the number of underrepresented minority undergraduate students maintaining an interest in a healthcare career.

Dr. Cervantes also founded the Health Equity Lecture Series at Denver Health, bringing academic and community leaders together to increase understanding of the social determinants of health in Denver. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Doris Duke Foundation, and the NIH, Dr. Cervantes’ research is focused on improving patient-centered and clinical outcomes among documented and undocumented Latinos with end-stage renal disease on dialysis.

In 2019, her research (focused on demonstrating the worse outcomes faced by undocumented Latinos with kidney failure) led to a health policy change that expanded access to quality care and thus a better quality of life for undocumented immigrants with kidney failure.

Louis Voigt, MD, Intensivist and Ethics Committee Chair, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City

As a specialist in critical care medicine with a background in internal medicine and pulmonary diseases, Dr. Voigt’s field of expertise revolves around patients with life-threatening conditions in need of close monitoring and frequent interventions. The intensive care unit is an environment in which patients and their family members may often feel overwhelmed due to the respirator and other life-support machines, the infusion pumps, the monitors, the wires, and the alarms. Dr. Voigt is committed to helping my patients and their loved ones in these difficult moments, when emotions and feelings are intensified.

In collaboration with the respiratory therapy team, Dr. Voigt also provides weekly workshops for the residents and fellows, where they gain basic knowledge in fiberoptic bronchoscopy and mechanical ventilation through simulation technology. In addition to teaching and supervising fellows, residents, and students, Dr. Voigt is also involved in several critical care medicine-related research projects.

Moderator: Nancy Berlinger, PhD, Research Scholar, The Hastings Center

Nancy Berlinger is a Hastings Center research scholar whose work focuses on two major themes: ethical and societal challenges arising from population aging, and the role of health practitioners, systems, and policymakers in the care and well-being of migrants.

These themes reflect her longstanding interests in decision-making and care concerning serious illness and near the end of life; safety and harm in health systems; and the moral dimensions of care work. She publishes, presents, and speaks to the media frequently on topics within these themes. She is the lead author of The Hastings Center’s Ethical Framework for Health Care Institutions Responding to Covid-19 and of related pandemic guidance for professionals,  organizations, and policymakers.

Nancy Berlinger’s aging-focused projects include Dementia and the Ethics of Choosing When to Die”; “Living Alone at Home with Dementia: Ethical Considerations for Inclusion,” and “Bioethics for Aging Societies: Informing Policy and Practice.” Her current migration-focused work includes “Creating Systems of Safety for Immigrant Health”and related collaborations with clinician-investigators, and the Undocumented Patients’ public database and resources.

She served on the Planning Committee for the 2018 National Academy of Medicine Workshop on Physician-Assisted Death. She directed the revision of The Hastings Center’s landmark Guidelines on treatment decision-making and end-of-life care and collaborated with the Society of Hospital Medicine to develop a primary palliative care pathway for serious illness communication.

With colleagues at the National University of Singapore and the University of Oxford, she co-developed the open-access Singapore Bioethics Casebook. She was a 2018 resident at the Bellagio Center of the Rockefeller Foundation for a book project on migration and urbanism. She serves on the Bioethics Committee of Montefiore Medical Center (Bronx, NY) and on Montefiore’s Ethics Review Committees on hospice access for patients alone, and teaches at Lehman College, City University of New York.

Nancy Berlinger is a graduate of Smith College and received a doctorate in English literature from the University of Glasgow and a master of divinity, with a focus on ethics, from Union Theological Seminary.