State to require implicit bias training for health care workers to improve equity

LARA Director Orlene Hawks | Laina G. Stebbins

As of next June, all Michigan health care professionals who are either new licensees or renewing their health care license must undergo implicit bias training, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) announced Tuesday.

The new LARA administrative rules are a product of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities established last year. Whitmer directed the task force in July 2020 to begin promulgating rules that would incorporate an implicit bias training requirement.

There are approximately 440,000 licensed health care workers in Michigan.

“Since March 2020, COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated so many underlying inequities in Michigan, especially the disparate impact of health outcomes by race,” Whitmer said Tuesday, speaking at the Lansing’s Forest Community Health Center alongside Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, LARA Director Orlene Hawks, Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail and Racial Disparities Task Force co-lead and Michigan Public Health Institute CEO Renee Canady.

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Michiganders represented over 35% of cases despite making up just 14% of the state’s population. Currently, the state reports that Black residents are experiencing a rate of 72,780 cases per million while white Michiganders are seeing 63,140 cases per million.

Black and Latino residents are also twice as likely to die from COVID-19, as Gilchrist pointed out.

The new training standards for health care professionals are meant to help recognize and address these inequities — particularly those stemming from systemic racism — by rooting out the unconscious biases that every person has.

Michigan sees decline in racial disparities in COVID-19 cases, deaths

The requirement is set to go into effect on June 1, 2022, and will require a minimum of two hours of training for new applicants and a minimum of one hour per year for renewing applicants. Both Whitmer, who is white, and Gilchrist, who is Black, said they both have undergone the implicit bias training.

“This training will improve the practice of medicine admission and upgrade what it means to be a medical professional,” Gilchrist said. “It is yet another step towards building a culture of responsive inclusion that further positions Michigan as a national model for equality, understanding and fairness.”

The rules were developed over the course of 11 months and incorporated collaboration from licensees, insurance providers, state lawmakers, state agencies, higher education and advocacy groups.