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Beyond the Numbers Are Stories of Hope

In my last Perspectives post, I shared a cherished memory: my five-year-old self, excitedly chatting with Grandpa at the Saigon Airport, dreams of a new life in Denver swirling in my mind. It was the last time I’d see my grandpa. Soon after, a critical illness took him away as we mourned from the other side of the Pacific Ocean. As I grew older, this experience became a part of a larger pattern – witnessing loved ones and my community grappling with preventable illnesses that could have been delayed or even avoided altogether.

National Minority Health Month, a descendant of National Negro Health Week established by Brooker T. Washington in 1915, highlights the persistent health disparities faced by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and communities that are historically underserved. The pandemic ripped the veil off these disparities, exposing higher rates of infection and mortality in BIPOC communities. Employment and economic disruptions, as well as vaccine hesitancy due to historical mistrust in the health care system and misinformation, further exacerbated the situation. Culturally and linguistically diverse families faced an even steeper climb navigating the complex health care system.

The pandemic called for a new era, elevating another North Star in the health care industry’s Quadruple Aim: to advance health equity and help individuals achieve their full health potential. This includes measuring and reducing health disparities, partly achieved through collecting quantitative and qualitative data, implementing targeted evidenced-based interventions, addressing systemic inequities, providing culturally responsive care,  and impacting economic policies that promote health equity.

In my professional role, I view health data not just as statistics but as human stories. Each number represents an individual with hopes and dreams who serves a vital role within their community. My own family’s story represented one of the disparities in the data points. Arriving in Colorado during the winter of 1992, we faced challenges – lack of secure housing, transportation, economic opportunities, and English language proficiency. My mother, a force of resilience, navigated a complex health care system while delivering my brother prematurely. Working towards our hopes and dreams turned our story and data trend around.

This lived experience informs core principles that guide my work to advance equitable care:

  • Holistic Understanding: Assessing individuals and communities necessitates a holistic view – considering not only physical and mental health goals, but also socioeconomic aspirations and personal dreams.
  • Empowering Roadmaps: Simplifying and clarifying key steps to achieve preventive care and chronic disease management goals allows individuals to take control of their health journey.
  • Actionable & Accessible Care: Recommendations must be realistic, coupled with readily available resources, and prioritized based on their potential impact on health outcomes.
  • Sustainable Health-Related Social Needs (HRSN) Solutions: Equipping individuals with tools to address HRSN sustainably fosters long-term health improvements for them and their families.
  • Continuous Improvement: We must continuously evaluate health care operations to ensure that services, programs, and approaches effectively address diverse and ever-changing whole-person needs.
  • Building Network Capacity: Through partnerships, we can leverage the strengths and diversity of community networks to deliver culturally responsive, whole-person care.
  • Advocacy for Systemic Change: Health equity demands systemic change. We must advocate for policies to create a more equitable health care system for all.

The power of our diverse lived experiences, alongside industry best practices, fuels the creation of effective equitable care strategies. National Minority Health Month is a powerful reminder: achieving health equity requires diverse perspectives of individuals, community networks, health care providers, payers, policymakers, and all key partners working together in unison. Together, our organizations and the health care industry have made significant strides, but the journey continues. Let’s continue creating an equitable health care system where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to reach their full health potential, and that airport goodbyes have greater chances of meeting joyful reunions.