By Brandi Phillips
Health disparities have been a big concern in America for a long time. Although Minnesota is known for many good things — lots of trails and bike paths, multiple millionaires, and 10,000 lakes — health in the American Indian and Black/African American populations is not one of them. The health disparities that people of color and American Indians experience in comparison to Whites in Minnesota is of concern to many and should be of concern to many more.
Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger, MS, MSPH, held a presentation on “Advancing Health Equity: The Central Challenge in Minnesota” on July 18 in St. Paul. This workshop was hosted by Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties.
In his PowerPoint presentation, Commissioner Ehlinger showed participants a slide from the cover of Time Magazine that depicted former state governor Wendell Anderson holding a large fish, and the cover read, “The Good Life in Minnesota.” Next to the PowerPoint picture Ehlinger had noted: “Minnesota, where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all our health statistics are above average —unless you are a person of color or an American Indian.”
In his presentation, Ehlinger reported, “The opportunity to be healthy is not equally available everywhere or for everyone in the state.” This is something that every one of every community and every ethnicity should be aware of and try to do something about, he said.
In terms of mortality rates, American Indians have the highest in the state for all age groups, followed by Blacks or African Americans. The highest mortality ratio for American Indians is 3.7 out of 4 in the age group 25-44.
Infant mortality rates in terms of Black/White disparities are higher in Minnesota than any other state in the region (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin) at 9.45 per 1,000 babies born. In all other regions the rate averages 7.14. In other words, the infant death rate for Blacks and overall mortality for American Indians is disproportionately higher in Minnesota in contrast to the White population.
As well as mortality in infants, there are significant racial differences in how soon congenital hearing loss is diagnosed in infants. On average it takes about 66 days and 120 days to diagnosis this disorder for babies of White and Black mothers respectively.
These are just a few of the problems that need to be addressed. What are we going to do about improving these disparities? Ehlinger stated, “Health is not solely the responsibility of the healthcare system or of public health agencies. Health is the responsibility of every individual and agency [with the ability to effect change].
According to the MDH, Minnesota’s vision for health is to interdependently work on three themes:
1. Capitalize on the opportunity to influence health and early child care (prenatal care, breastfeeding, food security).
2. Strengthen communities to create their own healthy futures (small business development, home ownership, incarceration justice).
3. Assure the opportunity to be healthy is available everywhere and for everyone (on-time high school completion, per capita income, sense of safety).
The vision was created by the Healthy MN partnership, which “brings community partners and the Minnesota Department of Health together to improve the health and quality of life for individuals, families, and communities in Minnesota,” according to their website. The outcomes of this vision are all interchangeable, making the themes interdependent. The vision is to have all people in Minnesota enjoy healthy lives and healthy communities.
Changes in health policies will continue to all be a very important part of improving health disparities in Minnesota. In his presentation, Ehlinger noted that disparities are not just due to a lack of access to health care or to poor individual choices, [but] are mostly a result of policy decisions that systematically disadvantage some populations over others, especially populations of color, American Indians, GLBT and low-income. The MDH recognizes that there is some structural racism going on in regards to health in Minnesota.
Ensuring a “good life” for all Minnesotans would include engaging all of the population in creating health and empowering community to create the conditions for health. The Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties say they will be hosting more Community Health Action Talks (C.H.A.T) in the near future.
For information on future health topics and dates, go to www.caprw.org or call 651-645-6445.
Brandi D. Phillips welcomes reader responses to [email protected].