University of Colorado law professor Dayna Matthew ’87 spent several years as a corporate litigator before entering the legal academy. Since 2003, she’s been a faculty member at Colorado, where she served as the Law School’s associate dean of academic affairs, and vice dean. This year, Matthew is in Washington, D.C., working on policymaking and legislation as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellow, giving her the opportunity to work with leading experts and lawmakers on current public health issues.
Matthew’s recently published first book, “Just Medicine: A Cure for Racial Inequality in American Health Care,” tackles the inequities in U.S. health policy as a consequence of racial and socioeconomic discrimination. As one example, a recent medical study showed that racial and ethnic minorities consistently receive less adequate treatment for acute and chronic pain than white patients.
“Implicit bias is the single most important determinant of health and health care disparities that we are not talking about,” Matthew said. “Poor and minority people need more than health care to be healthy. They need equal access to housing, education, employment, food. These things are all plagued with implicit bias, and they affect the health and health care of many, many Americans. And either directly or indirectly, these inequities affect all of us.”
The crisis can be overcome, Matthew said, but it will take collaboration and innovation on the part of doctors, nurses, hospitals, social workers, lawyers and policymakers to take up the cause of marginalized patients.
Matthew’s dedication to national health care policy advocacy was propelled by her work as the co-founder of the Colorado Health Equity Project. This medical-legal partnership incubator, whose mission is to remove barriers to good health for low-income clients, has made significant progress in improving the health of communities throughout the state.
“We’ve seen how law actually changes health outcomes for poor and minority people and can improve whole communities,” Matthew said.