Reflections from the National Minority
Health Summit

Our national priority for reforming health care reminds us that it cannot be accomplished unless we boldly and directly address the health disparities affecting our racial and ethnic minority communities.

The timing for discussing health care reform and its intersection with health disparities was favorable for the Office of Minority Health as we convened the Third National Leadership Summit on Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health in Washington this February this year.

The Summit brought together more than 1,500 leaders from across the U.S., including community and faith-based organizations, non-profit organizations, minority health providers, private companies, state and federal governments, and even celebrities known for their work with issues affecting minority health. During this past year, we were able to hear loud and clear the voices of individuals who attended six regional meetings from communities across the U.S. Their recommendations were paramount and provided the nucleus for improving outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities that focused on improving awareness of health disparities, empowering leaders at all levels to take action, improving the health and health system experience for communities of color, enhancing cultural and linguistic competency, and ensuring that health actions were informed by research and evaluation findings.

These recommendations are the foundation of the National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities (NPA), the basis for a number of community-originated strategies for change (including, ensuring that health disparities is on the national health care agenda and that access to quality care is available to all Americans), and the driving force behind the Summit.

Our Director, Garth Graham, M.D., M.P.H., reiterated the Office of Minority Health’s unwavering commitment to improving health care to minority communities in the context of implementing health care reform.

“We believe in this Administration’s mission to combine voices and resources to achieve goals and seek solutions to problems,” Dr. Graham said. “In fact, the creation of the NPA was designed to mobilize communities, ensure community voices are clearly heard and ensure that the best and brightest from across the nation contribute to the solution.”

Maria Hinojosa, managing editor and host of the cable television show Latino USA, joined the Summit to moderate an important discussion that addressed health equity and the changing health care landscape.

Hispanic health is often shaped by factors such as language/cultural barriers, lack of access to preventive care, and the lack of health insurance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified the leading causes of illness and death among Hispanics, some of which include heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries (accidents), stroke, and diabetes. Other health conditions and risk factors that significantly affect Hispanics are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, HIV/AIDS, obesity, suicide, and liver disease.

For other populations, the list of health issues may be similar, but the outreach strategies, the cultural context, the linguistic issues and community and family dynamics must be carefully considered.

Many of these health issues were addressed by a number of prestigious speakers at the Summit and are a testament to the diversity of our population, as well as the urgency and gravity of the issues our communities face both historic and present day.

Former Director of the Arizona State Health Department, January Contreras, opened the Summit by sharing experiences on how Arizona made progress in establishing a health disparities agenda and providing a roadmap for integrating health disparities and health reform. Next, former HHS Secretary, Margaret Heckler, the driving force behind the seminal government report on health disparities in 1985, inspired participants by recounting the long road on which health disparities has traveled and the long and necessary path ahead. This report led to the creation of the Office of Minority Health.

The NPA’s collaborative approach includes community-driven engagement and action, meaningful partnerships across public and private organizations, shared strategies for actionable steps, and measured progress. And, its emphasis on prevention supports a more efficient and productive health system that focuses on maintaining rather than regaining health.

This new framework provides an opportunity to put together the pieces of a healthy lifestyle, while remembering that an inclusive health care system treats all citizens equally. It is indicative of an educated society and a strong economy. This is a goal that all Americans can share. Together, we can. Together, we will. Come join us. Call 1-800-444-6472 or go to to learn more.

Mirtha Beadle, M.P.A., is a Latina health executive and Deputy Director of the Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.