County Committee Funds Pilot Health Care Project

March 27, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Last year, Kent County Commission Chairman Steven Heacock put together the Task Force on Health Care for People of Color.

Last month, county commissioners heard a task force report that outlined a three-year pilot project that is designed to remove racial barriers to medical treatment for minority residents.

Last week, the county’s Financial and Physical Resources Committee agreed to fund the pilot program at $500,000.

This week, the county board will vote on allocating those funds.

Most of that money, $218,000, will be used to create a new post to direct the project and to hire someone to fill that position for three years.

“We think it will take three years to implement the entire project. We will be asking to hire someone to fill the clinic coordinator post for three years,” said Mary Swanson, assistant county administrator.

“It’s a little bit seed money in some cases, and it’s a little bit implementation money,” she said of the $500,000.

But, perhaps the county’s most important financial investment in the project will be the $95,000 that has been assigned to closing the communication gap between providers and their minority patients by training medical personnel in the nuances of cultural differences.

“They have a medical way of speaking and use different terms,” said Swanson. “If we could talk to them in their language and help them understand how to communicate more effectively with the minority population, I think that would be a good thing.”

The recommendation was one of seven the task force made, and it could become the most vital one.

A recent study done by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit that researches health care issues, found that blacks, Latinos and Asians have a difficult time talking with their doctors.

“There is good reason to think that some of this disparity relates to problems in patient-physician communication,” Dr. Karen Collins told the Boston Globe.

In her report, Collins wrote that minorities were more likely to admit that they had trouble communicating with doctors, feeling disrespected during a doctor’s visit and not understanding, or following, a doctor’s orders.

“If you have no confidence that your doctor has your best interest at heart, you’re not going to follow the advice you receive or you’re not going to go back,” said Collins.

In addition to the Commonwealth Fund research effort, a recent Harvard University study found that racial disparities in health care do exist across the country.

County commissioners will vote on the allocation this Thursday. Heacock has told the Business Journal that he expects board members will finance the pilot program.

“I like the concept,” said County Commissioner Jack Boelema last week. “It’s an ambitious program.” 

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