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Addressing Racial Disparities Begins in the Room You are in...by Celia Wcislo

As a member of the Connector Board, and as a member of the ACT!! Coalition, it has always stunned me to look out at the room of people who are interested in reform.

From the Blue Cross Blue Shield “Roadmap to Coverage” forums, to the regular attendees of Connector Board meetings, to the composition of the Connector Board and staff itself, the visual of healthcare policy in Massachusetts is a sea of white faces with an occasional face of color visible. I should add I am one of those white faces myself. Over the past six months, the Connector board has addressed minimum creditable coverage, affordability levels, consumer choice and a slew of other meaty issues. But we haven’t addressed the topic of racial and ethnic disparities. And with the exception of our new Governor and the head of EOHHS, Dr. Judy Ann Bigby, there is little input to how we should change, manage or improve our decisions that have helped us understand potential disparities we’ve built into our system of access.

The Connector has recently established its own Health Disparities Advisory Council. That group meets for the first time next week. True healthcare reform and access requires broad representation from every racial and ethnic group within our Commonwealth. While Chapter 58 created a racial disparities commission to continue the great work of the initial legislative task force, the focus (appropriately) was on how to overcome racial disparities once someone was in a hospital.

But the problems of disparities begin well before a patient enters a hospital. Healthcare is not only a complex system – it is also likely to produce a complex set of feelings within each and every individual depending upon their age, the color of their skin, where they were born, and what they experience within a healthcare setting. Healthcare is also very personal: imagine what it would be like to never encounter a doctor, a nurse, or an insurance representative that looks like you or speaks your language?

From a healthcare reform perspective, there’s still time for us to do better. We’re only in year one of healthcare expansion. I know that from a workforce perspective, we need to expand education and training opportunities so that today’s entry-level workers (who more accurately reflect our state’s growing diversity) are advancing their careers and staying in healthcare. Let’s put our heads together and really examine all of the opportunities we have in the private and public sector to get this right.

Celia Wcislo, Assistant Division Director, 1199SEIU, MA Division
and member of the Connector Authority board

This program aired on June 22, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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