George Fernandez, founder and CEO of the advocacy organization Latino Connection, speaks during a news conference on Monday, 4/12/21. (Screen Capture)
By George Fernandez
It feels like every month, even every day, stands to recognize some new cause or initiative fighting for public attention – and moreover – public action. April is no exception. A quick Google search tells us it’s Community Service Month, Earth Month, and even National Humor Month.
With so many observations fighting for our attention, it’s hard to cut through the noise and shine a proper spotlight on the serious issues that are devastating our communities, particularly right here in Pennsylvania. Health equity is at the top of such examples, yet many aren’t aware that April is National Minority Health Month (NMHM), let alone why it matters and what needs to be done right here in our communities.
According to the CDC, NMHM is observed every April to underscore the importance of improving health outcomes for racial and ethnic minority groups. The importance of addressing the gap in minority health equity is at an all-time high since the onset of COVID-19. The pandemic has affected racial and ethnic minority groups, and people who live in rural areas by causing more severe illness and death than in other groups because of low income, discrimination, and lack of healthcare access.
And let’s not forget the longstanding systemic health and social inequities that have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting COVID-19 or experiencing severe illness, regardless of age. More people from some racial and ethnic minority groups work in essential work settings, such as healthcare facilities, farms, factories, grocery stores, public transportation, and other service-related jobs than other groups of people. Some people who work in these settings have more chances to be exposed to COVID-19.
Why should this matter, particularly in Pennsylvania? Latinos are the fastest-growing ethnic population in the Commonwealth. According to U.S. Census data, the Latino population grew by 82.6 percent between 2000 and 2010 and is also the fastest-growing subgroup nationwide. With over a quarter-million Latinos calling Pennsylvania home, health equity for minority groups needs to be elevated to our most pressing concern.
More than just merely being aware, or “observing” the issue, we need to roll up our sleeves and take action! The threat of COVID-19 is not going away. Instead, we need to adjust to this new reality by supporting our minority communities in tangible, proactive ways.
Pennsylvania faces major gaps in health equity exasperated by the pandemic. For months, hospitals didn’t do elective surgeries, preventive care was placed on the back burner, and mental health concerns went from a slow burn to a rapid boil with dire consequences that have spread further than we ever could have imagined.
With April shining a spotlight on improving minority health, we need to use this as a ringing alarm that we must get back into motion and make minority health equity a top priority. I charge our medical community, government leaders, and every individual to take a critical look at where you have the influence to make a difference. Namely, we need to focus on getting back to preventative care to address cancer, diabetes, HIV and Aids, tobacco and substance abuse, cardiovascular issues, and much more. And moreover, we need to ensure preventative care is free and easily accessible to our minority population.
Minority health impacts each one of us. When the people who make up the backbone of our community are not well, Pennsylvania is not well.
The vibrancy of our economy, workforce, education, culture and so much more relies on the health and wellness of our Latino community. Before April, and NMHM come to a close, I am hopeful that this is just the beginning of the conversation and that everyone will step up to do their part to ensure health equity for everyone in Pennsylvania.
George Fernandez is the Founder and CEO of Latino Connection, a national leader in community education, health outreach, and wellness programming focused on reaching low-income, uninsured communities.
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