In early May, the Rhode Island Minority Elder Task Force (RIMETF) held a Health and Wellness Fair at the Cape Verdean Progressive Center in East Providence to bring attention to lack of access to Rhode Island’s minorities. During the three-hour event, 21 vendors distributed health care information, and some even provided free health screenings to over 60 seniors who came to learn more about the health care resources available to them.
Although RIMETF’s primary mission is to raise money and seek grants to provide limited emergency assistance to low-income seniors in crisis situations, the decision to host a Health and Wellness Fair on May 11, 2018, was tied to minorities having a lack of access to health care services, says Susan Sweet, the nonprofit’s founder who is a former state official who oversaw programs and services provided to the state’s elderly.
To this day the state’s diverse minorities continue to remain in the dark about health care programs and services that they can access and it has a detrimental impact on their health and well-being, says Sweet.
Health Disparities Affecting Rhode Island’s Cape Verdeans
During his thirty-minute keynote, Dr. Michael Fine, a primary care physician who formerly served as the state’s Health Director, and Senior Population Health and Clinical officer at the Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, Inc., provided the details as to how lack of access to health care adversely impacts the health and life expectancy of Rhode Island’s Cape Verdeans and other minority groups.
Looking at Cape Verdeans, Fine noted that the Rhode Island Department of Health does not track the health of this minority group separately from other groups. The state’s primary care practices and community health centers don’t have a good way to decide who counts as a Cape Verdean for health tracking purposes, he said. But about half of the Cape Verdean community in Rhode Island live in Pawtucket and Central Falls, so that health information collected using the electronic medical record by Blackstone Valley Community Health Center (BVCHC), Inc, provides the first ever look at the health Status of Cape Verdeans in Rhode Island.
It’s difficult to know if that data is complete, because it doesn’t allow us to count all Cape Verdeans at the BVCHC, but only those people who speak Cape Verdean Creole or those who identify themselves as having been born in Cape Verde. “Because we have no complete way to identify the health status of the Cape Verdean population, we have no certain way to identify specials needs and opportunities to provide better health care to this minority group.” In addition, because Cape Verdean Creole is not a written language, “we have no way to certify Cape Verdean medical translators” which means some of the health care needs of Cape Verdeans go unaddressed.
But, there are better ways to improve the health care of Rhode Island’s Cape Verdeans, says Fine. “We must make sure that all Cape Verdeans are enrolled in a primary care practice or community health center,” he says, noting that electronic medical systems can provide better measures of the health of this population. Fine called on Cape Verdeans to be appointed to boards of health care organizations to represent them in decision of allocation of resources, to demand better translation services, and to improve delivery of health care to Rhode Island’s Cape Verdeans.
Thinking Out of the Box on the Delivery of Health Care
Fine warns that major changes must be made to the nation’s health care delivery system to reduce spiraling health care costs and to provide better access. This solution can be modeled after his Central Falls Neighborhood Health Station (CFNHS), he says. It’s a multi and interdisciplinary approach, bringing a wide variety of health care professionals together, from physician, nurses, physician assistants, mental health workers, nutritionists, substance abuse workers and midwifes, to rehabilitation professionals,
CFNHS’s must also provide urgent care and primary care services, be open on weekends and “sick today access.” Says Fine.
Fine has documented early successes in the CFNHS’s delivery of health care. Adolescent pregnancy was been reduced by 24 percent in 2016 and emergency medical service runs were reduced by 5 percent in just 12 months.
Fine envisions a Neighborhood Health Station in every community of 10,000. When up and running, “we’ll increase life expectancy, reduce infant mortality and revitalize the local economy,” he says, by reducing health care costs.
For more details regarding the work of the RI Minority Elder Task Force or to make a donation, write RIMETF, 5 Leahy Street, Rumford, RI 02916 or call Lori Brennan Almeida, Chairperson, at 401-497-1287.