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Minnesota immigrant, refugee communities seek voice in health care policy
The voices of immigrant and refugee communities run the risk of being lost amidst the many other groups vying for the attention of the Minnesota legislature. Thirty-five groups representing immigrant and refugee populations decided to work together to make their voices heard in the governmental arena. The Alliance for Racial and Cultural Health Equity (ARCHé) began near the end of 2009, said Monica Hurtado, chair of the group’s steering committee. Explained Hurtado, “We said, ‘It’s so powerful—it’s so beautiful to work together. Let’s work on the campaign, but let’s create something, like an alliance.’”
Hurtado was a family medicine doctor in Colombia. For the past eleven years, however, she has worked as the program developer for Aquí para Tí (Here for You), a clinic-based program for Latino youth aged 11-24. The program is located at the Hennepin East Lake Clinic in Minneapolis. Her position has led her to become a strong proponent of ending health disparities in Minnesota.
Principles for collection of Race Ethnicity Language data
She explained that ARCHé was formed out of the desire to take action on the health disparities affecting immigrant and refugee communities. “We know the disparities, but we don’t have the resources, the training, and the skills to collect our own data to prove the disparities,” Hurtado said. At issue, she said, is that there is no way to examine health data on individual communities. For instance, the African American category includes American-born blacks as well as African immigrants and refugees.
Said Hurtado, “When we go to places, like MDH, DHS, and all sources of data reports, we don’t see ourselves there.”
Since 2001, the Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative through the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has awarded grants to organizations that are working to reduce disparities in eight areas: “infant mortality, adult and child immunizations, breast and cervical cancer, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), cardiovascular disease, diabetes, unintentional injuries and violence, teen pregnancy.”
Aquí para Tí receives funding from the initiative, yet Hurtado and others felt they could better address the disparities in their communities with more specific data. In 2010, ARCHé began to advocate for legislation that would call for health data collection practices that included information about race, ethnicity, and language. They called it the “Visibility” campaign. “We wanted to become visible,” Hurtado explained, “in particular immigrants and refugees.”
ARCHé participated in a series of meetings with the MDH and an advisory committee made up stakeholders, such as hospitals, clinics, and community organizations. The meetings resulted in a report of recommendations for race, ethnicity, and language data collection principles (see sidebar).
The challenges for ARCHé are not over, however. The organization does not yet have non-profit status and lacks paid staff and funding. “We do it on our volunteer time,” Hurtado said. She added, “We are really committed.” Yet, Hurtado dreams of being able to pay staff who can spend considerable time helping to educate and inform immigrant and refugee communities about health issues and the health care system.
It can even be difficult, Hurtado said, to convince community members that being a part of policy decisions is worthwhile. “People feel like it’s a waste of time,” she said. “They don’t trust the big organizations.” Explaining the impact of healthcare reform has also been a challenge for the same reasons.
Since December 2011, ARCHé has tried to hold community meetings every other month, said Hurtado. The hope is that the meetings will help the group connect with their communities, gain new members, and address questions. She emphasized that anyone can participate, though only those who self-identify as immigrants and refugees can become members. The vision, said Hurtado is “to have a united voice and bring our agenda to the organizations that are making the decisions.” Hurtado called the process hard, but exciting.
For more information, contact Monica Hurtado at arche [dot] minnesota [at] gmail [dot] com or 612-701-8412.
© 2012 Andrea Parrott