April is National Minority Health Awareness Month, a time when the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S Department of Health and Human Services challenge workers in the health care field to confront the health disparities that affect minority groups. According to the CDC’s 2013 Health Disparities and Inequalities Report, examples of health disparities include differences in disease rates, receipt of preventive vaccinations, and incidence of risky behaviors.
At Fidelity House Human Services, we confront healthcare disparities faced by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are also racial and ethnic minorities. People with disabilities are often dealing with complex or difficult to diagnose medical conditions. Pain is often expressed through behavior and mistakenly associated with a disability rather than the presenting condition. There are physical barriers to care such as the need for Hoyer lifts and larger spaces for wheelchairs. The role of the caregiver is underestimated. And health insurance reimbursement formulas often do not support the length of time and skill required.
In 1991, Fidelity House, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services, established a Latino Medical program to help overcome barriers and the associated lack of access to medical care. Through this program, Fidelity House provides transportation to appointments and assistance with interpretation and translation. Bilingual/bicultural families are empowered to provide important background information and assist with communication of symptoms. Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to participate in their own care while family members learn how to navigate the health care system in the Merrimack Valley and in Boston. Over 300 Latino families of individuals with disabilities, who have complex medical needs, have received support as a result of this program.
The ultimate goal is for medical providers to treat an individual with disabilities like any other patient while respecting any disability-related needs he or she may have.