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National Minority Health Month

April is designated National Minority Health Month. There are several goals and objectives being advanced, including increasing attention to health disparities among people and communities in our nation; promoting policies and programs to eliminate health disparities; and, improving the health of our communities by increasing access to health care for everyone. This year's theme is "Advance Health Equity Now: Uniting our Communities to Bring Health Care Coverage to All."

Greg Olsen, Acting Director of NYSOFA said, "There is strong evidence that some segments of the older adult population in New York access less preventive services and are more prone to have serious illnesses than others, and that this disparity is related to one's race, ethnicity, financial status, age or other factors." He continued, "The New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA,) in partnership with other state agencies, is working to advance efforts to reduce health disparities and help older New Yorkers and their caregivers to become aware of resources available to them to live health, independent lives."

Health disparities are the differences in rates of disease, health outcomes and access to healthcare between different groups of people, which complicate efforts to address the needs of older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities, "compelling evidence indicates that race and ethnicity correlate with persistent, and often increasing, health disparities among the U. S. populations." In addition, health disparities exist in the following segments of the population:

Over the last decade within New York State, the minority population aged 60 and older grew by 43 percent, compared to 8 percent for the non-minority population. Growth in the aged 85 and older minority population group is expected to be even greater. Over the last decade, this age group grew by 81 percent, compared to 22 percent for the non-minority population. This high growth rate will continue over the next three decades. Additionally, according to the 2009 American Community Survey, 21.3 percent of the NYS population is foreign-born, with 28.5 percent of the population speaking a language other than English at home.

There are some initiatives that would lead to an increase in access to aging-related services. One such initiative is Governor Cuomo's Executive Order issued last year, requiring all state agencies to provide free translation and interpretation services. In response, NYSOFA has established the Telephonic Language Interpretation Services in order to provide equal access to services by all of New York's older adults and their caregivers. Older adults and caregivers, with limited English speaking abilities, will have access to a telephone interpreter when they contact NYSOFA's Senior Citizens' Helpline at 1-800-342-9871.

Also, in response to the demographic changes mentioned above, and to better identify the needs of individual clients, including minority older persons, NYSOFA recently added a list of new questions to the COMPAS comprehensive assessment tool. The program now collects a broad range of information such as the client racial/ethnic characteristics, poverty status, sexual orientation, gender status, spoken language, income and housing. Additional information on the client's psycho-social status, the prescribed and over the counter medications currently taken, instrumental activities of daily living (IADL)s, activities of daily living (ADL)s and their overall health status which includes chronic illnesses and use of assistive devices are also collected. The system uses a 10 digit unique identifier to report the data so the client information is reported anonymously.

Finally, NYSOFA is working hard with our county partners to expand the use of new prevention, screening and health and wellness benefits offered under Medicare. These benefits offered by Medicare provide a variety of screenings such as diabetes, behavioral health, colorectal cancer, osteoporosis, etc. for little or no out of pocket cost for the beneficiary. The goal is to increase the use rate that these health and wellness services are used which will help physicians identify any problems earlier and reduce the likelihood of poor health care and quality of life outcomes due to an undiagnosed condition. For more information on Medicare's benefits(External Link).

These initiatives are part of an ongoing effort by state agencies to reduce health disparities in New York State. The Affordable Care Act also contains policies to reduce health disparities and achieve health equity. For more information, visit the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health website(External Link).