Office of Maternal Child Health
In August 1935. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law new legislation to promote and improve maternal and child health nation-wide. Title V (MCH) of the Social Security Act was born, creating an Office of Maternal and Child Health in every state in the Union. Seventy years later, Title V remains the longest lasting public health legislation in our Nation.
The Federal Maternal Child Health Bureau requires each Title V agency to conduct an internal needs assessment every five years. In 2005, Richard Aronson, MD, Director of the Office of Maternal Child Health for the state of Maine, was eager and excited to discover how the people of Maine viewed these services.
Dr. Aronson is a long time advocate for family-centered care, community wide leadership, health promotion and resiliency, outreach and needs assessment, and cultural competence. True to his beliefs, he organized forums throughout the state of Maine; he hired external, neutral facilitators to conduct patient and family interviews and looked forward to suggestions for improvement.
And this is what he heard-from nearly 2,000 Somalis in Lewiston, from Cambodian and Lithuanian parents in Portland, and from Native Americans in Northern Maine-we need culturally and linguistically competent care. Mothers and fathers said we can work together on infant mortality, decrease adolescent substance abuse, curb obesity, if we are partners, using language we all share and understand.
The idea that Maine had cultural and linguistic competency issues was a new one for many of the health care providers! Five years ago, the state of Maine was the most racially homogeneous state in the union. Until the mid 1990s, Portland's population was overwhelmingly white and Christian. But now, the northeastern tip of New England is home to immigrants from scores of ethnic groups from around the globe, who came looking for new lives. Today, you can hear 57 different languages in Portland's high school.
And then, Maine's Office of Minority Health was created in 2005!
Dr. Aronson ventured, "We all have our own cultures, and our own biases. Can we join together embracing all cultures with unbiased language to create a partnership throughout the state?" Dr. Aronson and Ms. Sockabasin, the Director of the Office of Minority Health, have joined forces in a powerful learning collaboration with patients, families, and providers, to create a new partnership, Safe Families.
Maine is one of nine states to be awarded a two-year grant from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, to foster and sustain humane, family-centered, community-rooted, culturally proficient, and strength-based systems to promote the healthy development and safety of all young children.
Office of Minority Health
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) created the Office of Minority Health (OMH) in 1986, in response to the large and persistent gaps in health status among Americans of different racial and ethnic groups. The mission of the office is to improve and protect the health of racial and ethnic minority populations through the development of health policies and programs that will eliminate health disparities. The office advises the Secretary of DHSS on public health activities affecting American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinos, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. For more information, see www.omhrc.gov/
Many states have Offices of Minority Health, which operate with a combination of state and federal funding. In April 2005, Maine hosted the biannual Eliminating Health Disparities Conference and Institute, where Governor John Baldacci announced the formation of the Office of Minority Health
The newly established Office of Minority Health promotes health and wellness in racial and ethnic minority communities throughout the state. Areas of priority include:
Cultural and Linguistic Competence: to address cultural and linguistic barriers to accessing all health services resulting in improved systems that are both culturally and linguistically competent.
Data Collection: to enhance data systems and improve the collection of racial and ethnic data in order to better understand and identify existing health disparities. This is especially important as the population becomes more diverse with the increasing resettlement of refugees.
Partnerships and Collaboration: to inform, advise, and assist in prioritizing actions to efficiently and effectively address racial and ethnic health disparities.
Our spring seminar will be held in Maine, the 40th state to establish an Office of Minority Health. The Institute is pleased to welcome Lisa Sockabasin, Director of Maine's Office of Minority Health, as a member of our Faculty. For more information about Lisa Sockabasin, please see last month's newsletter Pinwheel Pages, March 2007 Edition.