Health disparities in communities of color take center stage at community hearing

The Committee on Healthy Women, Families, and Communities and a panel of three experts discuss healthcare inequalities in the city of Boston, Oct. 25, 2019. Photo by Emma Kopelowicz/ BU News Service

By Emma Kopelowicz
BU News Service

BOSTON — According to a report from the Boston Health Commission, African American, Asian American and Latinx residents of Boston are significantly more likely than white residents to suffer from poor public health outcomes. 

At a hearing to discuss public health disparities among Boston’s communities of color Friday, Boston City Councilors Ed Flynn and Kim Janey hosted a panel of experts who explained that this is partly due to a lack of trust between patients and medical care providers.

Monica Valdes Lupi, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, was one of three people on the panel to discuss public health disparities. The group talked about how language barriers weaken trust between some members of limited English speaking communities and health professionals who are susceptible to stereotyping. 

Lupi said peer leaders can build a bridge of trust within the healthcare system through interpretation services. She pointed to youth coalitions including BOLD Teens, which works to raise awareness and campaign against major health inequities within communities of color. 

These peer health leaders are trained to provide health information to communities in neighborhoods whose residents are at various literacy levels and speak multiple languages.

“These are really outreach workers, health educators, trusted partners, people who look like the communities that they’re serving,” Lupi said. “They’ve been really important in holding the city and the Health Commission accountable and using our board and our rulemaking power to promulgate regulations and policies.”

Chien-Chi Huang, founder of the Asian Breast Cancer Project and executive director of Asian Women for Health, testified as a member of the public at the hearing. As a breast cancer survivor and an immigrant from Taiwan, Huang said she has firsthand experience with the lack of cultural and linguistic resources and services catering to Asian women. 

“Today it’s not just your genetic code, but your zip code also matters in your health life,” Huang said.

According to a special report the Boston Public Health Commission released in 2018, breast cancer diagnosis increased for Asian women by 89% between 1999-2013, the largest jump of any ethnicity reported on.

Huang said she realized how cultural language barriers prevent Asian women from accessing information about timely health screenings that could potentially save their lives.

“I hope that we learn and gather as much data about it and do a lot of listening and outreach in communities of color, and our immigrant neighbors, so their voices are heard and we know what residents need,” Flynn said. 

1 Comment

  • Councilor Ed Flynn is one of the best Councilors we have had in recent history. His ability to take on big pictures issues, while still having top notch constituent services is unmatched.

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