At first glance, she does not look like a 600 lbs. guerilla. With her designer suits and well-appointed jewelry she looks like a fashion maven. Those who would judge her diminutive stature as a weakness do not know the strength of her disarming smile.
Recently, in fact, the opinion of Lia Margolis, President and CEO of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC) and that of the LCHC Board of Directors has begun to matter and draw attention. After a decade of service to Latinos in California, the LCHC has moved to Sacramento to bring home the point that Latinos are disproportionately carrying a burden of health disparity that is unmatched by any other group. On August 21, 2002 the LCHC is asking Latinos and their supporters to march to the State Capitol to drive home this issue? "Latino Health Access .. When?? Cuando???
Since 1992, the LCHC has built one of the strongest policy development communications networks and conduits for Latino health advocacy in California. With a following of 10,000 and three strategically placed Regional Networks in Alameda, San Joaquin, and Los Angeles, LCHC has tapped the pulse of the community, motivating, and activating participation consistently and effectively. LCHC conferences have built a following starting with a participation base of 350 and growing to 750 in the most recent conference.
Over 700 community members participate in the Rapid Response Network, a system to alert the Latino community to current or emerging governmental initiatives, regulation or policy through concise policy briefs and sample letters. The system facilitates active participation in the political process. The LCHC Board is known locally, nationally and international for their expertise on health care and systems, bi-national and border and public health. Over 400 Latino health experts donate their time to Latino communities through LCHC?s Latino Community Rolodex. These systems have set the LCHC apart from all other national and California Latino based organizations. The LCHC is the largest advocacy group focused solely on Latino health in California.
The following is an interview that further defines the issue and the group that is known as "the leading voice for Latino health in California."
Q. With all that is going on now why have a conference?
A. There is never a good time to do what we need to do. The conference theme is "Latino Health Access - When?? Cuando??" We have invited local, state and national leaders to answer the question. More importantly, we are asking them to join in our efforts to overcome the barriers that impede access and that bind Latinos with an undue burden of health disparity. We are kicking off the conference with our traditional March to the Capitol. We want Latinos and their supporters to join us on August 21 to carry bright red umbrellas and shout - Cuando??? We have a wonderful lineup of California's leaders including Governor Gray Davis and from the White House, Rueben Barrales, Deputy Assistant to George Bush and the leading experts in Latino health. We will hold a Town Hall meeting on the state's budget and the impact on Latino health. Visit http://www.lchc.org to get more information. We want to bring attention to this pressing issue and we want Latinos to join us in large numbers.
Q. As you celebrate your ten-year anniversary of serving California's Latinos, what has changed for Latinos regarding health access over the years?
A. When we established LCHC, California was in the midst of the worst "immigrant bashing" campaign. It was overt and it was ugly. We saw a need to fight this onerous trend and to begin to build a coalition of Latino leaders who could be marshaled and be prepared to respond to the onslaught of vindictive and racist attempts to deny access to many health and human services. National attempts to create a universal approach to health care were failing.
More importantly, the first glimpse of the major health disparities and insidious institutional discrimination against people of color in health settings were becoming apparent. There was a Latino health leadership void then and the founding members of the LCHC stepped in and met the challenge suing the Governor to maintain over 200 health and human services to immigrants. Today, as the budget is stalled, major cuts to health services are being proposed and the health safety net that serves as the last resort for Latinos is being decimated.
For more than a decade, there has been evidence that Latinos and other people of color carry a greater burden of health risks, disease, morbidity and mortality and these trends have been tracked with little change. The prestigious Institute of Medicine recently released a report "Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care" covering a decade of research that found that Latinos and other people of color suffer discrimination in health settings - - even when they have health insurance. Latinos today do not have access to health care nor do they have access to health promotion and the preventive measures that make and keep people healthy. What has changed? The site of the battlefield - - not the extent of the war. We are losing and this cannot continue.
Q. Why does the LCHC so much about this issue?
A. The LCHC has at the core of its organization a set of values that leads our efforts. Foremost is that good health is the result of educational, occupational, economic, environmental, physical and spiritual well-being. Secondly, we believe that access to quality, culturally and linguistically appropriate health care is a right available to all human beings regardless of ability to pay or immigration status. These values and others have guided our efforts over time and guide us now. With this perspective, denial of health access, and the inability to rise to ones full potential and continued disparities in health - this is a denial of a human right and humane equity. We can no longer tolerate that.
Q. What can be done about this?
A. Latinos have to rise and say - Ya Basta!!! They need to raise their voices and gain the support of others to win this fight. We feel Latinos have to know that they need not lose hope. We will be launching a multi-leveled campaign to inform and mobilize Latinos and those that support them in a concerted effort to address this serious problem. This issue is not unique to Latinos, but with the numbers in the population and their overrepresentation in health disparities, Latinos carry an inequitable level of the burden in bad health outcomes and in untoward health impact. In reality, it all comes down to access, equity and the right of human beings to achieve their full potential. We have to demand change and not wait for others to act.
Q. Why should non-Latinos care about this problem?
A. One would like to think that every human being would be concerned for their fellow humans and be motivated to bring about change. Latinos must take on the challenge of this issue and embrace it as their own. However, success will not be theirs if have to go it alone. Others have to see the significance and the value of addressing this issue aggressively and with personal conviction. They must recognize that the numbers of Latinos will continue to grow. Latinos are the youngest population with their average age being 26 - - while what was the majority population only ten years ago - - continues to age (and has dropped for the first time to a minority) and their average age is closer to 40. For a long time, Latinos will be at the base of the economy in large numbers and in the labor force. For this state to continue as the world's fifth largest economy, we need to be vigilant and consider it in our best interests to ensure that this economic base is healthy, educated, employed, housed and achieving full potential.
Q. What about partnerships?
A. The LCHC has been known from the very beginning in 1992 as a consensus builder. Our successes have been through partnerships with others. We work collectively with a broad range of groups that are diverse and varied. We are as comfortable with our multicultural partners as we are with traditional mainstream organizations. We try to build consensus through a broad base of support. Health issues are complex and to solve them you have to devote time and energy building lasting relationships because it will take time for every success and it will be even harder to learn from every failure. It takes a studied approach that has had the benefit of several perspectives and experiences to strengthen the argument that will be posed to justify change. We are proud of our partnerships and we are grateful to those who continue to support our efforts.
Q. I am especially intrigued by one of your most recent partnerships - The Latino Health Alliance.
A. Over a year ago, we came to a realization that there were several state-wide Latino-led groups that were working in varying degrees on health issues - - some more extensively than others - - some in addition to a broader range of human and social issues. As we tried to determine how we could realize our organizational value that ?"Good health is the result of educational, occupational, economic, physical and spiritual well-being," we knew that we could not meet this goal without strong partnerships in all these areas. So I in the Year 2000, I set about meeting with the leaders of major Latino-led organizations and with the help of Carmela Castellano, CEO of the California Primary Care Association (CPCA) we gathered to talk about collaboration. The Latino Health Alliance was born. We are pleased to say that the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California is the lead agency on health with the California Latino Medical Association (CaLMA), CPCA, the Latino Issues Forum (LIF), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), National Council de la Raza (NCLR) and the United Farm Workers (UFW-AFL-CIO). Collectively, we can address the broadest meaning of health.
Q. Are there any other partnerships you have forged?
A. We recognize that the health disparities and lack of access we are addressing also negatively impact other communities of color. Just as we are working with the major Latino led agencies, we are also working with the California Pan Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN) , and alliance of the largest mult-ethnic health advocates and with the Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) and other partners to develop legislation to support cultural and linguistic access in health care settings and Assemblywoman Chan -AB2379.
To address the shortage of physicians and dentists in underserved communities we have worked with the California Medical and Dental Boards, the California Medical and Dental Associations, the CPCA and Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh to write AB 982. The bill would establish a loan forgiveness program for physicians and dentists to serve in underserved communities. It just passed the Business and Professions committee. It is but one initiative that this "Collaborative," is working on to address the barriers to Latinos in the health professions. Some would argue that we should not be working with "mainstream organizations." We as Latinos need to reach out and be seen with a broad spectrum of partners if we are to succeed. Collective efforts are a way to maximize our strength and influence.
Q. How can Latinos support your efforts
A. You don't have to be Latino to support us. There is much to done and we need all the help we can get. People can sign up for the rally at the State Capitol on August 21 - we want see a great crowd shouting Cuando?. They can register for our conference - it is not too late. Everybody can become a member of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California - membership is at a one-time only reduced rate. You can do all this on-line at our website www.lchc.org anytime 24/7. We certainly will take donations and you make your checks out to:
The Tides Center/LCHC
Sacramento, CA 95814
It is important that Latinos support our efforts. We want everyone to get involved now so that we can continue to be ?"the leading voice for Latino health in California."