Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

It's just one outrage after another

One major reason why there are racial and ethnic disparities in the health care people receive is that the health care workforce -- doctors, nurses, therapists, administrators -- is much less ethnically diverse than the country. Specifically, it's more than 90% anglophone European-American, i.e. white. That means that people who don't happen to be of the dominant culture are likely to have culturally discordant providers, that the culture within hospitals and other provider institutions is monolithic, and that there aren't a lot of people around who speak languages other than English, who understand the lives and worldviews of people who aren't of the dominant culture, who can readily perceive discriminatory and other inappropriate treatment, and who can advocate for cultural competency.

Since the Clinton administration, we've had a national goal to eliminate health disparities by 2010. Well, we sure ain't gonna get there. Diversifying the health care workforce is a key part of the strategy, but evidently the Bush administration isn't staying the course. According to Elena Rios of the National Hispanic Medical Association, "The only Federal Programs to recruit disadvantaged students to all health professions schools are being seriously threatened. The HHS FY06 Budget Bill presented to the Congress last week called for their virtual elimination ($30 million for each last year ---FY 06 budget down to $2million for HCOP, $4 million for AHEC and $20 million for COE). " AHEC=Area Health Education Centers, HCOP=Health Careers Opportunities Program, and COE=Centers of Excellence, i.e. "Centers of Excellence grants assist health professions schools to support programs of excellence in health professions education for minority individuals in allopathic and osteopathic medicine, dentistry and pharmacy and graduate programs in behavioral or mental health (clinical and counseling psychology, clinical social work, marriage and family therapy)."

These are all very important programs that everyone who works in the field of public health and health disparities knows and values. The budget reconciliation bill has yet to pass, as you know, so along with Medicaid and food stamps and all the rest of it, here's one more stand we need to take. NHMA's government affairs page is here. Click on "legislative alerts" on the left side of the page for more info, including an easy way to get a letter to your own Rep.

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