Disparities in disaster healthcare: A review of past disasters


  • Angela Pettit Cornelius, MD, MA
  • Douglas Mark Char, MD
  • Constance Doyle, MD
  • Samantha Noll, MD
  • Vivian Reyes, MD
  • Jennie Wang, DO, MPH
  • Sharon E. Mace, MD




disaster, healthcare disparities, disaster healthcare disparities


Objective: To review the literature on the effects seen after disaster on those with poor social determinants of health (SDOH) and individual social needs.

Design: The Disaster Preparedness and Response Committee of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) formed a work group to study healthcare disparities seen in disaster. This group was composed of six physicians on the committee, all of whom have extensive background in disaster medicine and the chair of the committee. A systematic literature review regarding past disasters and all the healthcare disparities seen was undertaken with the goal of organizing this information in one broad concise document looking at multiple disasters over history. The group reviewed multiple documents regarding SDOH and individual social needs for a complete understanding of these factors. Then, a topic list of healthcare disparities resulting from these factors was composed. This list was then filled out with subtopics falling under the header topics. Each member of the workgroup took one of these topics of healthcare disparity seen in disasters and completed a literature search. The databases reviewed include PubMed Central, Google Scholar, and Medline. The terms queried were disaster, healthcare disparities, disaster healthcare disparities, healthcare disparities associated with disasters, SDOH and disaster, special populations and disaster effects, and vulnerable populations and disaster effects. Each author chose articles they felt were most representative and demonstrative of the healthcare disparities seen in past disasters. These social determinant factors and individual social needs were then cross referenced in relation to past disasters for both their causes and the effect they had on various populations after disaster. This was presented to the ACEP board as a committee report.

Results: All the SDOH and individual social needs showed significant negative effects for the populations when combined with a disaster event. These SDOH cut across age, race, and gender affecting a wide swath of people. Previous disaster planning either did not plan or under planned for these marginalized populations during disaster events.

Conclusions: Disparities in healthcare are a pervasive problem that effects many different groups. Disasters magnify and more fully expose these healthcare disparities. We have explored the healthcare disparities with past disasters. These disparities, although common, can be mitigated. The recognition of these poor determinants of health can lead to better and more comprehensive disaster planning for future disasters. Subsequent research is needed to explore these healthcare disparities exacerbated by disasters and to find methods for their mitigation.

Author Biographies

Angela Pettit Cornelius, MD, MA

Associate Medical Director, Metropolitan EMS Authority, Fort Worth, Texas, Associate Professor, TCU/UNT School of Medicine Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas; Department of Emergency Medicine, John Peter Smith Hospital, Fort Worth Emergency Medicine Residency, Fort Worth, Texas; Associate Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Ochsner Louisiana State University Academic Medical Center, Shreveport, Louisiana

Douglas Mark Char, MD

Professor of Emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri

Constance Doyle, MD

Attending Emeritus, Department of Emergency Medicine, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, Ann Arbor, Michigan; Department of Emergency Medicine, Retired Clinical Instructor, University of Michigan/St. Joseph Emergency Medicine Residency, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Samantha Noll, MD

Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado

Vivian Reyes, MD

Department of Emergency Medicine, Kaiser Permanente/The Permanente Medical Group, San Francisco, California

Jennie Wang, DO, MPH

Houston, Texas

Sharon E. Mace, MD

Professor of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio; Director of Research, Emergency Services Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio; Director of Research, Department of Emergency Medicine, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio


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How to Cite

Cornelius, MD, MA, A. P., D. M. Char, MD, C. Doyle, MD, S. Noll, MD, V. Reyes, MD, J. Wang, DO, MPH, and S. E. Mace, MD. “Disparities in Disaster Healthcare: A Review of past Disasters”. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, vol. 17, no. 2, Apr. 2022, pp. 171-84, doi:10.5055/ajdm.2022.0431.



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