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NSU To Host Regional Meeting On Health Equity

On December 9, Norfolk State University’s Center for Excellence for Minority Health Disparities will host a regional council meeting of health leaders. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Health Equity Council (RHEC) will meet with key stakeholders on the topics of health equity and disparities as part of a listening tour.

The Mid-Atlantic Council is one of 10 regional councils in the country which are independent non-governmental organizations affiliated with the National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities.

Key thought leaders and experts from academia, business, faith-based, health systems, insurers, private sector, media, grassroots advocacy, nonprofit, public health, public policy, and medical communities will be in Norfolk to learn from individuals who provide services and support to those communities most at-risk for both chronic diseases, as well as health disparities.

Members of the Council also will engage and listen to the participants attending the Community Dialogue/Listening Tour: Issues and Answers. As such, members of the Council hope to be able to use the feedback from the listening tour to help shape and formulate aspects of their planning process.

“Convening leaders in Virginia will allow the Mid Atlantic RHEC to learn local solutions to solving national health disparities issues. Over the next few years, we look forward to continuing our progress and pathways forward to eliminate racial, ethnic, social, educational, and economic disparities and achieving health equity for all in the Mid Atlantic states,” said Jenne Johns, Director of Health Disparities, Amerihealth Caritas, and Co-Chair of RHEC 3.

Currently, RHEC 3 has three main focus areas. Its CLAS Committee (Culturally Linguistic and Linguistically Appropriate Services) is chaired by Evelyn Gonzalez, who currently serves as the Senior Director for the Office of Community Outreach at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Further, Dr. Allan Noonan, along with Dr. Steve Owens, are leading the way in research efforts and action related to the Black Nurses Shortage, and Emerging Leaders Pipeline. The organization has also provided expertise and research on the importance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in reducing health disparities.

In 2015, Dr. Noonan and several other members of the RHEC III made presentations at the HBCU Summit on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. Dr. Noonan, one of the nation’s pre-eminent experts on HBCUs and public health schools, presented findings from his research. He was the Deputy to the former Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher.

Dr. Steve Owens is a nationally renowned public health practitioner and expert with over two decades experience mentoring and facilitating the successful matriculation, as well as career-building for emerging minority leaders in medicine and public health sector.

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The Office of Minority Health defines health disparities as a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social or economic disadvantage.

Voices from the expertsA Brief Interview with Ms. Evelyn Gonzalez, Mid-Atlantic Regional Health Equity Council, CLAS Standards Committee Chair

SB (Seneca Bock): Why is National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) important, and how does your work with RHEC III help make a difference?

EG (Evelyn Gonzales): CLAS in Health and Health Care are important as they provide 15 action steps to expand, improve or strengthen the quality of how health care providers are delivering services to patients with diverse cultural and language needs. These standards are part of a larger initiative to reduce health disparities.
For example when discussing language needs in healthcare, we are referring to the provision of certified medical interpreters (not children) or tools like video remote units for our deaf patients.

Another aspect of CLAS is health literacy for all patients. We often hear from patients that the use of medical jargon and big words interferes with their ability to understand. What good does it do to be able to read information or instructions but not to comprehend what is being asked? This lack of understanding contributes to medical errors.

Cultural understanding of those we serve is critical. You need to understand the nuances of a culture to ensure you are gaining trust, gathering complete information and speaking to the correct individual(s) to support decision-making and compliance.

Working through the RHEC III, we are able to connect with healthcare providers within six states (PA, DE, MD, WVA, VA, DC) sharing new information, sharing best practices and developing tools to support the effort.

SB: What are some factors you think will be significantly important as we move forward in the future?

EG: Factors that influence the adoption of the CLAS standards include awareness. Despite the launch in 2000 and the update in 2010 many providers do not have a complete understanding of the standards in their entirety. A comprehensive review of the evidence revealed that cultural competency training had positive effects on patient-provider communication, patient compliance, access to care, and utilization, but only limited evidence of impacts on the health status of patients.

Therefore, until we see actual improvement of health status and a reduction of health disparities, we must continue to work with the network to increase adoption of CLAS, tie the standards to other accreditation efforts and to utilize the national RHEC network to share innovative and effective strategies and outcomes.

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For more information, or to sign up to attend the Listening Tour at Norfolk State University, please call (678) 748-0705, or email, or

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