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Brief Report from Faces of a Healthy Future: National Conference to End Health Disparities II
By Naomi Hall, Forward Co-Editor

SPSSI was a promoter of Faces of a Healthy Future: National Conference to End Health Disparities II which took place in Winston-Salem, NC November 3-6, 2009. This conference was organized by the Center of Excellence for the Elimination of Health Disparities at Winston-Salem State University. The conference looked at health disparities from a variety of perspectives—social justice, health (physical and mental), healthcare, insurance, and community development—because the issue of disparities or inequities in health, threatens not only the health care system but also the economy of the nation. The conference boasted over 600 participants from all over the United States, and as expected, there were a number of outstanding sessions and colloquiums. These included:

•    Dr. Cornel West’s (Princeton University) discussion that Race Matters in Health Disparities.

•    Panel discussion of The Future Outlook for Eliminating Health Disparities led by Dr. Alvin Poussaint (Harvard Medical School), Dr Cara James (Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation), and Dr. Paul Jarris (Association of State and Territorial Health Officials).

•    The Health Disparity in Breast Cancer luncheon keynote with Ms. Elizabeth Edwards (Center for American Progress)

A Townhall Meeting led by Dr. Sanjay Gupta (Senior Medical Correspondent, CNN) addressed Health Disparities: Is Elimination a Pipe Dream? with an extraordinary panel of participants: Dr. Carolyn Britton (National Medical Association), Dr. Stephanie Coursey Bailey (CDC), Dr. Carolyn Clancy (AHRQ), Dr. Garth Graham (DHHS), Dr. Maulik Joshi (Health Research and Education Trust), Dr. John Ruffin (NIH), and Dr. Mary Wakefield (HRSA). The panel discussed the goal of eliminating, not reducing, health disparities. Dr. Gupta began by emphasizing that health and medicine are common denominators around the world, and that he has heard, and witnessed, “tragic and awful” stories both nationally and internationally. Panelists discussed issues such as how implicit and explicit bias impact access to, utilization of, and quality of services. National cultural competency standards have been established, but are they being followed? Are patients entering a system where they feel respected and cared for?

A discussion ensued about the uninsured versus the underinsured and Dr. Clancy provided a humorous analogy of the realities that those who are underinsured face—“being underinsured is like putting on a hospital gown, everything in the front is covered but all of the important parts are not.” Finally, many of the panel members agreed that two important underlying issues in disparities are trust and cultural competence. Many of those who are suffering the most don’t trust the healthcare system enough to utilize it, or adhere to the recommendations from the providers.

A second session focused on ethnic, racial, and minority social justice. Moving Upstream: Building a Healthy Future for All was presented by Dr. David Williams (Harvard School of Public Health). Dr. Williams began his discussion by noting that health policy in this country has not always been based on science. It is important as researchers, providers, and community activists that accurate and timely data, based on science, is presented to all levels of decision-makers. Dr. Williams took attendees through data which clearly indicated “we haven’t made much progress in closing the gap between Whites and minorities since 1950.” Three issues Dr. Williams noted that need to be addressed more effectively were the 1) impact of immigration on health; 2) geographical concentration and poverty; and 3) investment in children and young people to build human capacity. Dr. Williams encouraged more research (and funding) for non-medical determinants of health because “more than medicine, where a person lives, learns, works, plays, and worships determine their opportunity.”He noted that there needs to be new pathways to health developed by working collaboratively with other sectors not traditionally at the table (e.g., transportation, law enforcement) to address health disparities. His final remark was that “social justice can be cost effective.”

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