More than one-fourth of CA kids don’t have enough to eat, health equity expert says
USC Price panel spotlights challenges – and solutions – to addressing multicultural health inequities.
Speakers from left: William Jahmal Miller, Karen Van Nuys, Gabriela Torres, LaVonna Lewis, Dr. Tony Kuo and Eric Batch (Photo by David Giannamore) See more photos on Flickr »
By Matthew Kredell
During National Minority Health Month in April, the USC Price School of Public Policy’s Initiative on Diversity, Social Justice and Inclusion convened a conference on multicultural health equity from the perspectives of government, research and practice.
“This event is what I’m hoping will be the beginning of an annual program in April where we celebrate multicultural health,” said Professor LaVonna Lewis, who serves as director of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives at Price. “I want to move past the conversations about safe spaces and into brave spaces, where it’s not just about me being honest about stuff I think you might like, but me being honest about stuff I think you might not like, so we can have an honest conversation about what to me is a very critical topic.”
Video highlights from “Partners in Multicultural Health Equity – Government, Research, and Practice”
Driving real solutions
William Jahmal Miller MHA ’02, who served as California’s first-ever health equity officer on appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013, noted that the health equity mission for the state is to promote equitable social, economic and environmental conditions to achieve optimal health, mental health and well-being for all.
Miller explained that 26.3 percent of children statewide do not have enough to eat, about five percent higher than the national average.
He asserted that, in addition to the moral reasons, there is an economic case to be made for reducing health equities. From 2003 to 2006, the cost to the U.S. of health care inequality for Asian, Latino and African-American communities was $1.24 trillion.
There are also political implications of health inequities, according to Miller, who noted that excess mortality reduced the 2004 black voting age population by 1.7 million.
The Office of Health Equity, through its $70 million budget, invested in African-American, Latino, LGBTQ, Native American and Asian-Pacific Islander communities through progressive and innovative mental health programs.
“We’re trying to change systems, institutions and structures because, if we don’t change living conditions, institutional inequities and social inequities, we’re just putting a band-aid on the problem,” Miller said. “I’m glad to have served in an office that continues to strive upstream.”
Healing the heart
Karen Van Nuys, Executive Director of the Value in Life Sciences Innovation project at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics, talked about the center’s research recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on innovation in heart-failure treatment and its impact on life expectancy, disability and health disparities.
Van Nuys noted that one in nine deaths in the U.S. list heart failure as a contributing factor. Because African-Americans have a higher risk of heart failure and more physical limitations from the effects, she contended that a cure for heart failure could help close a significant cultural gap in health equity.
Eric Batch MPP ’00, Vice President of Advocacy for the American Heart Association, said that it is the AHA’s goal to improve cardiovascular health in all Americans by reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and strokes by 20 percent.
Batch pointed out that the affordability and accessibility of health care play a key role in that effort. He explained that there is even a direct relationship between a neighborhood’s median household income and racial composition, and the likelihood for a community remember to receive CPR from a bystander.
“I think, if we’re going to impact cardiovascular disease and stroke, it’s going to take all of us together addressing health equity and so many other things,” Batch said.
Need for advancing dialogue
Gabriela Torres, formerly with LA Care Health Plan and now with Momentum Solutions, gave a presentation on the health equity work and multicultural outreach strategies she has worked on at both organizations, while Dr. Tony Kuo from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health spoke about extensive portfolio of work at the county level to impact health equity and the important role of public-private partnerships.
Miller concluded the day by returning to the microphone to talk about strategies at Blue Shield, where he’s trying to position the company to have equity as a seamless value within the organization not only as a commitment to its social mission but a vital component of its growth strategy as a business.
“I’m glad that the issue of minority health and health equity is significant enough for us to have a time dedicated to having these types of conversations, rejuvenate ourselves and go back to a world that needs to have equity, needs equality and needs a much broader upstream understanding of what it takes to eliminate systemic, unfair and unjust disparities,” Miller said.