UK Nursing & COVID-19 series: Kacy Allen-Byrant on social injustice

Posted: February 12, 2021

“There’s an old saying that ‘If America gets a cold, the African American community gets pneumonia,’” says Kacy Allen-Bryant, MSN, MPH, RN.

Allen-Bryant is a lecturer at the UK College of Nursing and recent former chair of the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department Board of Health. “There are huge disparities,” she says, “in every health condition.”

So it wasn’t entirely unexpected when the epidemiologists she worked with discovered that African Americans composed approximately 30% of the COVID-19 diagnoses in the city of Lexington, yet they made up only about 15% of the city’s population. Data also showed black patients were getting sicker than white patients.

“It raised an alarm here, but we weren’t the only ones seeing the disparity,” Allen-Bryant says. “The African American community leaders, our ministers, Mayor Linda Gorton—all were taking notice of the numbers. That’s when we all came together and asked, ‘What can we do?’”

Open community forums followed. Support came from churches and a local hip-hop artist whose videos inspired teens to wear masks. The Board of Health partnered with providers like UK HealthCare to offer contactless, in-home COVID-19 tests for those who couldn’t access drive-through testing. Allen-Bryant’s team also increased its outreach to other minority communities experiencing higher rates of COVID-19.

The discrepancies in the infection rates are still high—across the country and in Kentucky. Many of the reasons, Allen-Bryant says, are related to social issues that affect physical well-being: poverty, physical environment and exposure to constant stress exacerbated by discrimination and other factors.

Further, much of the population works in the service industry and hasn’t had the option of working from home. While many of these barriers can’t be immediately addressed by the health care community, Allen-Bryant is heartened to see the community taking steps toward addressing the problem.

Because of her expertise, in July 2020 Allen-Bryant was appointed to Mayor Gorton’s Commission for Racial Justice & Equality.

“I hate that it took a pandemic, but it is highlighting the other injustices that we have in our society, those other social determinants of health that need to be addressed.”

The above article is part of a series on University of Kentucky College of Nursing faculty, staff and students-- and the myriad, impactful contributions they have made during the COVID-19 pandemic. The series is featured in the College's Winter 2020/2021 edition of Engagement.