Every April, the U.S. observes National Minority Health Month to highlight the health disparities that still exist for minority populations. In Tennessee, 1 in every 5 people is an ethnic or racial minority (21.3%), but many don’t know if or how they are affected by health disparities.
What are health disparities?
Health disparities are preventable differences experienced by socially disadvantaged populations that lead to:
- Higher rates of disease, injury, violence and a
- Decreased ability to achieve optimal health.
They result from multiple factors, including:
- Environmental threats
- Inadequate access to health care, and
- Educational inequalities.
How do you address health disparities?
The first step in addressing health disparities is identifying where they exist, says Rafielle Freeman, director of quality improvement at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. Only after you’ve done that can you begin to change them.
“I don’t think people who are struggling always know that they’re struggling,” says Freeman. “People don’t walk around consciously understanding barriers — this is just the way life is. But when you step back, especially in Tennessee where more than 15% of people live in poverty, for example, you see that everyone knows someone who is struggling. These are people we love and know, our families and friends. So we all need to know how to find the resources to help.”
How do you know if your health is at risk due to your economic or environmental circumstances?
There is no clear cut test to determine who’s affected by health disparities, however the more the statements you agree with below, the less likely you are to be personally affected by health disparities.
Health Disparities Checklist
- I can read well.
- I feel confident in my education.
- My children have access to education.
- I have access to technology when I need it.
- If I want to learn a new skill, I know how to find a way to do it.
- I can communicate with people in my community without difficulty.
- I am educated enough to find work.
- I make enough money to get by.
- I know where my next meal is coming from.
- My neighborhood has healthy places to eat or shop.
- My children are well-fed.
- I have a safe place to live.
- I have an affordable place to live.
- My neighborhood includes people of different races.
- My children have safe places to play.
- My community is clean.
- I have never had to move due to cost, eviction or foreclosure.
- I am not regularly exposed to crime and violence.
Most of my family members have lived:
- Long lives.
- Healthy lives.
I can get to and from work or school:
- In a reasonable amount of time.
If I have a problem with my health:
- I am not ashamed to get help.
- I know where to go.
- I can get there safely.
- I can afford treatment.
How do you get help for health disparities?
If there are boxes you did not check above (or if you know someone you think might be affected by health disparities) there are resources in Tennessee that can help.
Call or visit 2-1-1, the United Way’s free, confidential community services helpline. When you call, you can talk to a real person who can help you determine your needs and direct you to people who can help.
BlueCare members can also access help at bluecare.bcbst.com.