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Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Public Health Council Looks At Health Equity, Young (Not So) Invincibles

Public Health Council Looks At Health Equity, Young (Not So) Invincibles

July 22, 2010

The Public Health Council met last Wednesday with an agenda (pdf) that focused on health equity and young worker health and safety.

To help eliminate ethnic and racial disparities within the health care system, the Office of Health Equity recently published “A Guide to Providing Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS)”.  CLAS standards have been scattered, with some federally mandated and some state and national accrediting agencies requiring compliance with others.  Until now, compliance has been difficult since there has never been a resource to clarify confusing language of the law and increase awareness of the regulations.

The Director of the Office of Health Equity explained that this new guidebook will increase the capacity of the Commonwealth to respond effectively to health care needs of minority populations.  Some of the guidelines for CLAS include providing language assistance and interpreter services, implementing relevant risk reduction and disease prevention programs, and encouraging participation of minority professionals and students in health professions.

Members of the Council agreed that CLAS standards must become part of the DNA of DPH and all other public agencies.  Groups involved in the guide’s pilot program called the book, “manna from heaven” because it provides health care providers with clear guidance on how best to accommodate the health care needs of a diverse populations.  By uniformly removing language and cultural barriers in all realms of health care, CLAS compliance will result in greater individual access to needed services.

One Council member recognized that even though this program addresses many areas in which cultural and language barriers to the health care system increase disparity, there is still room for improvement.  Various sexual preferences and religious affiliations are other significant diversity factors that may adversely affect access to health care and should also be considered.

Another interesting presentation demonstrated that “Young Invincibles”, a term frequently associated with young adults who do not purchase insurance because they consider it unnecessary, are not so invincible in a physically demanding workplace. The highest rates of occupational nonfatal injuries occur among 15-17 year olds, doubling the injury rate of workers 25 years of age and older (a future study will survey injury rates of 18-24 year olds).  Risk factors include job hazards, inexperience, and physical incapability.  Psychosocial underdevelopment may also prevent a young worker from saying “no” to a heavy-lifting task that he or she is incapable of performing.  DPH plans to publish a “Safe Jobs for Youth” manual and institutionalize safety training for young workers to increase awareness and reduce potential hazards in the workplace.
-Elizabeth Arnold