Black History Month: highlighting health disparities

  • Thursday, February 20, 2020 11:15am
  • Opinion

By MultiCare Health System

February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the achievements, contributions and history of African Americans. During this observance, MultiCare honors the rich culture of African Americans and raises awareness of health disparities they face nationally and locally.

In Washington state, racial and ethnic minority populations, on average, receive lower levels of care and have higher rates of certain health conditions and diseases than white people. For example:

• African-American women in Pierce County are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at later stages and die of breast cancer compared to other groups of women.

• In the MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital service area, African Americans have the highest incidence of colorectal cancer.

• Nationally, black men are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and are twice as likely than white men to die of the disease.

• In King County, infants born to black mothers are more likely to be low birth weight compared to babies born to mothers of other racial/ethnic groups.

To help address the disparities around breast cancer in particular, MultiCare’s Center for Health Equity and Wellness partnered with the Carol Milgard Breast Center and Leaders in Women’s Health on a pilot project to increase breast health awareness and reduce breast health disparities for African-American women.

The project, called SistahFriends 2.0 and sponsored by the American Hospital Association Healthcare Community Cooperative, lasted for a year and involved outreach by community health workers. These workers hosted informal workshops with African American women, who were offered coupons they could redeem for a $10 gift card if they scheduled a mammogram at Carol Milgard.

A total of 127 participants across eight zip codes in Pierce County attended these educational workshops. Of those, nearly 38 percent hadn’t had a breast cancer screening in the past year and almost 6 percent had never had a breast cancer screening at all.

After the workshops, participants reported an increase in the likelihood they would schedule routine breast health visits, increased comfort when speaking to providers and increased knowledge of breast health. Nearly 85 percent said they planned to share the information with friends and family as well.

Other health disparities faced by African Americans

When exploring health disparities in the African-American community, it’s important to also consider persistent social injustices and factors that contribute to differences in health outcomes, such as access to affordable health care, discrimination, history of exploitation and medical mistrust, lack of available/appropriate services and access to transportation.

As a system, MultiCare is committed to providing equitable care for everyone. To do this, we must address, recognize and seek better understanding of the people we serve, and explore ways to improve health disparities faced by African Americans and other populations impacted in our service areas. One way MultiCare does this is through the Community Health Needs Assessment.

MultiCare Health System is a not-for-profit health care organization with more than 18,000 employees, providers and volunteers.

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