Texas psychiatrist tapped to join White House’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force

Dr. Octavio Martinez, of New Braunfels, calls appointment ‘huge honor’

Dr. Octavio Martinez, of New Braunfels, was tapped to join the Biden-Harris Administration COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.
Dr. Octavio Martinez, of New Braunfels, was tapped to join the Biden-Harris Administration COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. (KSAT)

Dr. Octavio Martinez has spent most of his career working on racial equity issues. Now, he has a chance to use his expertise to impact federal policy as part of the White House’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.

Martinez, Executive Director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health and a Senior Associate Vice President for the University of Texas at Austin’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, was appointed to the task force Wednesday. The task force will help advise President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on how to best reach underserved populations and minorities, who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a huge honor and really humbling to me, not only to be considered for this work that is so close to my heart, but then to actually be selected by the president of the United States to work on behalf of health equity for the nation,” Martinez told KSAT in an interview on Thursday.

The task force, established through an executive order signed by Biden on Jan. 21, includes doctors from across the nation who are experts in different fields of medicine, Martinez said.

“We need to be comprehensive and inclusive and take holistic approach to what’s happened to our communities,” Martinez said.

Many are struggling both physically and emotionally due to the pandemic, but Martinez said those stressors are compounded for minorities. Not only are minorities more likely to be uninsured in Texas, but many have also been dealt an emotional toll with protests over systemic racism that erupted over the summer.

Racial disparities are present in different ways, Martinez said, from unemployment and health care access to public transportation.

“To lay COVID-19 on top of that ... It’s very complex, so many parts of our communities are being affected,” Martinez said.

As cities across Texas began to declare racism a public health crisis, the Hogg Foundation similarly declared racism a mental health crisis last year.

“It was imperative,” Martinez said. “You have to name it. And, we really did it more for ourselves as an organization to show we’re committed to improving overall wellbeing.”

Martinez does not just want to bring his expertise in mental health to the task force, he also wants to make sure he’s representing a “Texas perspective.”

“There’s the uniqueness of us being close to the Mexico border, the uniqueness of our huge metro areas and the growth we’ve experience population wise,” Martinez said.

Martinez and the other task force members hope to improve outreach to minority communities and issue recommendations that lead to more a more equitable allocation of COVID-19 resources.

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About the Author:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.