Governor appoints social work professor to statewide task force

Sonyia Richardson
Thursday, July 16, 2020

Gov. Roy Cooper has appointed UNC Charlotte social work professor Sonyia Richardson, Ph.D., to a statewide task force on health inequities. The move comes as part of an executive order aimed at addressing the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color.

As a member of the 35-person Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental and Health Equity Task Force, Richardson will work with leaders from across North Carolina to identify best practices to create economic stability, eliminate health disparities, and achieve environmental justice in North Carolina.

Richardson will serve on a subcommittee focused on education. Subcommittees are also in place that will provide recommendations on access to health care; economic opportunity and business development; environmental justice and patient engagement.

“I plan to bring an intersectional perspective as an African American female social worker, educator, researcher and citizen,” Richardson said. “I want to provide insight for best practices that will offer healing and equity for marginalized communities. And as my research focuses on the intersection of social work and education, this committee provides an opportunity for me to provide a unique, interdisciplinary perspective.”

Despite making up 22 percent of North Carolina’s population, as of June 1, African Americans account for 30 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases and 34 percent of COVID-19 deaths in cases where race is known. Similarly, Hispanics account for 39 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases, in cases where race or ethnicity is known, despite only making up about 10 percent of the population in North Carolina. 

“Inequities in North Carolina are not new, but COVID-19 is shining a bright light on disparities that have gone unchecked in our health care and economic institutions for communities of color,” said Cooper. “This task force is the right way to address these inequities as we recover from the pandemic so that as we come back from this, we improve access to affordable health care and quality economic opportunities.”

Other members of the task force include Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services; Anthony Spearman, president of N.C. NAACP; Gene Woods, CEO of Atrium Health; Rhett Brown, LGBTQ medical director, Novant Health; and Pat Martinez, CEO of Leadership in the Clouds. Membership also includes legislators, public policy leaders and experts from academics, health care and minority serving organizations.

The task force is named in honor of Andrea Harris, who dedicated her life to eliminating disparities in North Carolina, co-founding the nonprofit North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development and serving on the Advisory Council for Historically Underutilized Businesses. Secretary of the Department of Administration Machelle D. Sanders will chair the task force.

The first meeting of the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental and Health Equity Task Force is anticipated in early August.