April is National Minority Health Month, and this year the focus is Accelerating Health Equity for the Nation.
National Minority Health Month was actually launched more than 100 years ago as National Negro Health Week, when back in April 1915, Dr. Booker T. Washington sent a letter to Black newspapers suggesting the “National Negro Health Week.”
The month is still very necessary, says Sheila Thorne, who is a leading expert on multicultural healthcare marketing and who has spent over 20 years designing and implementing marketing communications, cross-cultural health education, diversity, and cultural competency training initiatives and campaigns for diverse populations and the healthcare professionals who treat them through her company, Multicultural Healthcare Marketing Group, LLC. The disparity for healthcare for minorities is still way too large. We need to close this gap. Minorities still don’t have proper access to healthcare; they arent included for clinical trials. There still needs to be a focus on the discussions that affect them, she adds.
Thorne, who has been committed to eliminating health disparities and achieving health equity, stresses that minority health care has not kept pace with economic advances in community. We are doing better economically as a group, but Blacks are still dying sooner and suffering from more chronic diseases. We have to find out why, she explains.
And says Thorne, the time is now to really work on the disparity issue. I think there are a few things driving this, especially the rapidly shifting demo–before the end of the century the majority of people in the United States will be a person of color or a person of color who speaks Spanish. The time is now to look at the health concerns of these communities and to look at ways to implement change in order to work on these issues, she says.
Thorne, a former senior executive in five of the most preeminent health marketing communications companies in the country, now leads her own firm of multicultural, multilingual marketing professionals, health educators and trainers. The South Bronx-born Thorne was actually a former high school teacher of foreign languages before entering the healthcare industry focusing on professional and patient advocacy for racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse populations.
Through Multicultural Healthcare Marketing Group, LLC, Thorne has worked on behalf of the top 50 pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies. She is a past president of the Coalition of 100 Black Women Manhattan Chapter; a past chair of the Health Committee of the National Council of Negro Women Bronx Chapter; a past president of the Black Public Relations Society of Greater New York; a past member of the Board of Trustees of the Northern New Jersey Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society; a past board member of two New York City hospitals and sat on the Deans Advisory Council of the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey.
One main thing on Thornes mind is the elimination of racial and ethnic health disparities. This is what I have been focused on for 25 years. And it used to be people didn’t know what I was talking about, so my goal was educating these companies I would go into, but now the question isn’t what is that. They are now asking how can we fix this–which is a major shift, says Thorne during a phone interview while touring the country to speak about health care disparities and Minority Health Month.
There are major reasons why there needs to be a focus on minority health. In the Black community, for example, there are still higher incidents of chronic disease and premature death, notes Thorne. We need to look at the causes of these stats and work on education, prevention and treatment.
There are many misconceptions that all is well, but there is still lots of work to do. While pharmaceutical companies may be looking at how to fix the gap, the effort has to be all inclusive. Its not just enough to put minorities in the advertisements and target the minority community; Black and Latinos need to be involved in clinical studies. We need to also educate the communities about medications and illnesses. You hear about people sharing their medication, splitting the medications–you cant do this. You also have an acceptance of certain diseasesoh she has the sugar disease like everyone elsebut you can never accept chronic illness, says Throne.
One way to help move change along is by partnering with the right organizations. Thorne has worked with the National Medical Association, National Black Nurses Association, National Hispanic Medical Association, National Association of Hispanic Nurses Associations and numerous ethnic medical and nursing societies. Nurses on on the ground deal directly with the patients. When we get them on board, they can effectively create change, says Thorne, who was awarded the title of Distinguished Professor by the National Black Alcoholism and Addictions Institute developed in collaboration with Morehouse School of Medicine.
She is the recipient of the National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer Unsung Heroes Award for her innovative marketing strategies to reach communities of color and as well as the NAACP Freedom Fund Award. I do a lot of work with the Congressional Black Caucus and the Black medical teaching institutions that produce more than 70 percent of the Black doctors in the U.S. I also reach out to other people of color–such as Indian and African as well as Jewish medical professionals, who we are most likely to deal with when seeking medical attention. Only 5 percent of doctors are Latino, and 3 percent Black, she notes.