April is Minority Health Month and earlier this week the city of Cleveland kicked things off with the first local celebration in the country. But, the reality of minority health leaves little to celebrate. The American Heart Association says African Americans and Hispanics have more severe hypertension than whites. Also, African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans have a greater risk of type-2 Diabetes. 90.3 WCPN's Tarice Sims reports on the cultural factors that contribute to such health concerns in minority communities and what the health system is doing to alleviate those problems.
Tarice Sims: At the Hispanic Senior Center on Cleveland's west side, one man sits down with the resident nurse to have his blood sugar checked. The diabetes screening program is in its first year at the center. The Ohio Minority Health Commission gave them $87,000 to start the 2-year program, which screens for the disease and also offers education materials to people. Cheryl Ravniak is the program director.
Cheryl Ravniak: I think most of the people that we've interviewed into our study, have less of an education background and they haven't been educated in the whole health process.
TS: Ravniak says this program was desperately needed because research shows Hispanics with diabetes is a growing population. Also many of the clients have had the disease for a while and did not know it. Nada Ramos is a human service worker at the center. She says there are several reasons for that. One is economic - roughly a fourth of their clients have little coverage or no insurance at all. Also Ramos says cultural barriers contribute to the problem.
Nada Ramos: There's three of us here human services worker that we take the seniors to the doctors appointments, to different hospitals around the area. We take them to social services agencies, welfare department, social security department whatever their needs are and if they cannot, if they don't have anybody that speaks Spanish then we do that service for them.
TS: Many hospitals including Metrohealth have Spanish language signs and bilingual staff to help Hispanics who don't speak English. However, that language barrier stretches into other communities that are more diverse. Gia-Hoa Ryan is the Asian Prevention Coordinator and Program Manager for Bridgeway a network of mental health and recovery services. Ryan is Vietnamese and speaks some English but Asians could be from China, Cambodia or several other countries without common cultures. So when people seek medical services they often find themselves in a system that's very confusing.
Gia-Hoa Ryan: And they're afraid to go in to the hospital they afraid maybe nobody there to help them. So they have to rely on family so they wait to the last, you know, they almost not able to take anymore then they go into the hospital or doctor.
TS: Another common thread with many of the agencies that work within minority communities is lack of money. The Ohio Minority health commission gave the Asian project $200,000 for their program through Bridgeway. That money runs out in June. Cheryl Boyce is Executive Director of the Commission. She says there are as many system barriers as there are lifestyle barriers. Boyce says the way the state distributes money for agencies like those that deal with HIV and AIDS is not always fair. She says the commission is trying to bridge the gap.
Cheryl Boyce: All the commission is offering an opportunity and we're not doing this in lue of what's happening in public health. I certainly don't want to give the impression nothing good is happening in public health. We just need to be doing more, we need to close the gap. And I believe that the gap is closable if we engage communities in a meaningful way and make them partners in the solution as oppose to only using communities to define problems.
TS: The Commission has a budget of around $12 million. Locally Cuyahoga County spends double on programs at Metrohealth. Also the county contracts with community organizations like El Barrio, and the Garden valley Neighborhood Center and spends about $185,000 on early childhood initiative and healthy start programs. County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones says they can't be as generous as they'd like with funds that support local organizations.
Peter Lawson Jones: Of course the county like hopefully every form of government local state and federal want to do more to address the unique problems that are experienced by minority populations. Unfortunately there are finite resources and we are hopeful that the economy will improve and therefore we'll have more money available that we can devote to improving health outcomes in the African American community, Latino community and the community at large.
TS: Jones went on to say some of the money that the county receives from state and federal governments does have strings attached and has to be used in specific ways. But he says there is county money available that is unrestricted that organizations can access for improvement in minority health. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 WCPN News.