Norfolk seeks end to minority health disparities

Jordan Crawford | 10/3/2013, 12:20 p.m.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human has set a goal for the nation to end health disparities.

“The healthcare delivery system has a huge chunk to own in this. We have to fix the disparities that happen inside the health system,” she said.

Setting goals

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as part of its Healthy People program, set a goal for the nation to end disparities by 2010. Among other things, the plan called for reducing stroke and heart disease, diabetes complications, breast and prostate cancer, infant mortality and HIV among minorities.

Acknowledging the unfinished business in addressing disparities, the federal government two years ago made the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities an institute within the National Institutes of Health.

While the 2010 goal of eliminating disparities was not reached, neither were health goals for the general population.

The new goal is 2020. But Baumgarten said that will be just as challenging to meet, particularly for states in the Southeast because of the high levels of poverty and unemployment, the lack of insurance, education and access to care, especially in rural areas, and many other issues.

Making progress

There have been some successes in closing the health disparity gap. Screening rates for breast, cervical and colon cancer have improved because of culturally sensitive programs in historically black churches and barber shops.

“Those programs have done a remarkable job in closing the gap in screening,” Gemeda said. “But the gap in mortality remains because black women are often screened at a later stage and disease is discovered at a later stage. Infant mortality, while there has been some improvement, has been uneven, and the gap still is there.”

Saturday, the Norfolk Department of Public Health hosted the “Illuminating Generations of Minority Health Expo.” The event featured informational sessions on living in and maintaining a healthy community, and free health screenings.

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Many experts say the Affordable Care Act will be of some help in ending disparities simply by virtue of extending insurance to more people. But they agree there is still work to do.

“Compared to 10 years ago, we have a better understanding of why healthcare disparities occur and there’s a better understanding of what steps we need to take to carve away at some of the disparities,” Gemeda said. “But there’s a sense that this is an overwhelming challenge that a lot of us are going to have to work together to solve. And there’s a long way to go.”

Baumergarten believes it can take decades to move mortality rates, but adds that there has been some improvement.

“We have to celebrate the baby steps,” she said. “It may not be to the order of magnitude we’d like to see, but we’re heading in the right direction.”