New study points to health disparities among minority women


May 11th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Minority women in Nebraska have less health insurance and access to doctors and poorer health than their white counterparts. Those are among the findings of this year’s Women’s Health Equity Report from the Department of Health and Human Services. NET News caught up with researchers involved in the study to find out more about the medical gap.

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Nebraska’s ethnic minority population increased by 17 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the 2012 Women’s Health Equity Report. But while that population has continued to grow, so have disparities in health care access, preventative care, disease and even death between white and minority women across the state.

Liliana Bronner is assistant director for rural health education at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. (Photo by Ben Bohall, NET News)

“All of these are issues of importance with minority women, but with Nebraska in particular,” said Liliana Bronner, assistant director for rural health education at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha. She’s a member of the Nebraska Women’s Health Advisory Council, a group heavily involved in the report.

“I think (the report) reinforced what we already know about racial and socioeconomic inequalities when it comes to health,” she said. “The socioeconomic data for Nebraska was really striking in that these included disparities in non-completion of high school and poverty in black, American Indian and Hispanic women in Nebraska.”

Bronner said those socioeconomic inequalities strongly influence health and well-being. For example, black women are far less likely to receive mammograms, and Hispanic women are less likely to receive as many cholesterol screenings as whites.

“And also, Hispanic and American Indian women were less likely to have personal doctors, and minority women were less likely to have doctor visits in the past year because of the cost,” Bronner continued. “That was really the most striking finding.”

One of the most glaring differences lies in causes of death: The top causes of death for all Nebraska women are stroke, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But the study showed American Indian women were more likely to die from diabetes than white women, while black women were far more likely to die from all of these chronic diseases than whites.

Dr. Renaisa Anthony is interim director and deputy director for UNMC's Center for Reducing Health Disparities. (Photo by Ben Bohall, NET News)

The infant mortality rate for babies of black women was higher than for all other groups.

Dr. Renaisa Anthony, interim director and deputy director for UNMC’s Center for Reducing Health Disparities, said the issue is more complex than people – especially from outside the state – may have thought.

“On a national level, when you’re presenting from Nebraska, people have this glazed look over their face, like Nebraska? You must be talking about rural health and American Indians or Native Americans,'” she said. “No, it’s much more complex than that. In this state, any type of health disparity you’re looking for, you can find it. This state is very unique in that we have these urban epicenters and then it’s surrounded by a rural state. Within that you have these tribal communities, as well.”

Now that groups like the Department of Health and Human Services, the Center for Health Disparities and the Women’s Health Advisory Council have identified the problem, the next step is to find a solution.

“Whatever you’re doing in the health care sector, you’re either perpetuating health disparities or you’re helping to reduce them,” Anthony said. “I think through curriculum development, through the grants that we’ll be able to bring in to look at this particular issue, we hopefully will be able to see some changes in the data in the next ten years.”

Bronner agreed, saying the study needed to be followed by action.

“It’s there to empower people, in order to improve their health. And hopefully address policy issues, to be able to change some of the policy,” she said. “At the state level the hope is that some (policies change) in order to change some of these outcomes for people.”

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