Pennsylvania's health disparities
Transforming Health | 12.14.12
(Undated) -- Pennsylvania is set to undergo an unprecedented change in the way health care is delivered within the next few years.
Medical professionals hope the transformation will help improve patients’ overall health. But at least for the time being, significant medical disparities remain among Pennsylvanians.
As part of our new, multimedia Transforming Health project, witf's Megan Lello spoke with the PA Office of Health Equity, SouthEast Lancaster Health Services, and Dr. Marianne Hillemeier of Penn State to take a look at who's getting sick in PA and why.
Hilda Shirk is the CEO of SouthEast Lancaster Health Services, which provides high-quality healthcare to low-income residents. Their mission is to provide medical and dental care to ALL members of the community who have no insurance, who have little or no income and those who cannot find affordable healthcare elsewhere.
Over half of the patients are either racial or ethnic minorities and many have serious chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease. Many receive state assistance to help pay for care and wouldn't be able to pay otherwise.
The center's patient profile mirrors what Commonwealth sees on broader level.
More than a quarter of African Americans in PA live in poverty and 21% didn't have health insurance.
Dr. Marianne Hillemeier of Penn State says that African Americans in particular have poorer health outcomes across the state. She explains that the three leading causes of death in PA are heart disease, cancer, and stroke. And, in each of these causes of death, African Americans have much higher rates than whites.
A 2009 study shows that more than a fourth of African Americans in PA live in poverty and 21% didn't have health insurance.
Hispanic and Latinos had lower death rates than other groups, but 34% live in poverty- the highest of any group in the Commonwealth. Learn about how communities are overcoming barriers to cancer prevention in minorities here.
Dr. Hillemeier says that analyzing health disparities can be a challenge because there are a number of factors that determine how healthy a person is. She explains:
"It is where people are born, the circumstances they grow up in, their work, their age… and the systems that are put in place to deal with illness."
One key in combatting disparities is to make sure everyone has equal access to care.
One key in combatting disparities is to make sure everyone has equal access to care. Having preventive care for chronic diseases like diabetes that can predispose a person to stroke can help to minimize thos complications.
A possible Medicaid expansion or even bringing doctors to rural areas could help.
Dr. Hector Ortiz with the PA Office of Health Equity says that another way of improving access is to make sure providers are culturally sensitive.
Hilda Shirk says that doctors are speaking in both English and Spanish to help meet some patients' needs. But, at the end of the day, each patient is different. She says:
"The first and foremost thing to remember is that each patient is a unique individual and brings unique needs and perspectives to life."
The work ahead for doctors is to help improve health outcomes for all Pennsylvanians.
What do you see in your own community? Are you witnessing disparities in healthcare? Tell us what you're thinking about in a comment below.
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