Dividing Line: Minnesota pushes for equal health opportunities

By KBJR News 1

February 25, 2014 Updated Feb 25, 2014 at 11:25 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- If you're poor, or a minority, chances are you're not getting the same quality of health care as the majority of the population.

That means many Minnesotans are not as healthy as they could be, because the opportunity is not equally available.

State leaders recognize this as a big problem, but there is a plan underway to fix it.

People with less money, populations of color and American Indians experience worse health outcomes because they consistently have less opportunity to achieve good health.

A new report by the Minnesota Department of Health, Advancing Health Equity, outlines the disparity and offers a plan to equalize health care.

"I think this as ungalvanized and as honest a look at institutional racism, and structural racism and health disparities as I've ever seen," Phil Norgaard, Director of Health for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa said.

The report is helping to start critical conversation across the state about the current environmental and socio-economic factors that contribute to health.

Diverse groups are now looking closely at how determinants, such as access to food, housing, healthcare, jobs opportunities, wages, and transportation could contribute to disparities.

"The good thing about the report, is it gives us some ideas of how we can join hands together and bring attention to the issues, and also search for common solutions that inevitably will help everybody," Norgaard said.

Statewide, the report indicates, unemployment is highest among populations of color, American Indians and people who live in Rural Minnesota.

African Americans and American Indians are incarcerated at nine times the rate of white people, and their babies, are still dying at twice the rate of their white peers.

In Duluth, similar disparities can be marked by neighborhoods within blocks of each other.

"There's as much as a 12 year difference in life expectancy between central Duluth and east Duluth," Jim Gangle of the St. Louis County Health and Human Services Department said.

The report recommends potential solutions to these problems, including changing grant-making procedures and the way health data is collected.

But to achieve health equity for all, the Commissioner of Health says strengthening and building community partnerships at the grassroots level, is crucial.

"Best practices in the broad community, may not be best practices on the reservations," Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said. "We are actually going to the reservations and to the tribes, saying 'what are the things that you see work and might work.'"

By considering how policies will affect all oppressed groups in the state, Ehlinger says we can begin to combat structural racism.

"Pay attention to what these policies may have on the populations that are disadvantaged," he said.

Ehlinger says a path to achieving health equity beings with an open and honest conversation.

Jennifer Walch
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