How Can Health Systems Effectively Serve Minority Communities? There are Endless Opportunities.

Apr 28, 2014, 9:00 AM

To mark National Minority Health Month, the Human Capital Blog asked several Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) scholars to respond to questions about improving health care for all. In this post, Adrian L. Ware, MSc, a third year graduate student in public health at Meharry Medical College, responds to the question, “What are the challenges, needs, or opportunities for health systems to effectively serve minority communities?” Ware is a Health Policy Scholar at the RWJF Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College.* 


According to the World Health Organization, “a good health system delivers quality services to all people, when and where they need them. The exact configuration of services varies from country to country, but in all cases requires a robust financing mechanism; a well-trained and adequately paid workforce; reliable information on which to base decisions and policies; well maintained facilities and logistics to deliver quality medicines and technologies.” This definition will be used as the gold standard for this discussion of service toward minority communities. It is important to underscore that the basis for this discussion is centered on public health infrastructure. Public health is the promotion of health at a community level by the government. 

Challenges for health systems to effectively serve minority communities include, but are not limited to: racism, racial/ethnic stigma, minority distrust of medical professionals due to the history of racial injustice in this country (e.g., Henrietta Lacks), lack of prioritization of financial resources for minority communities, uninformed decision-making based upon poor education, and a lack of long-term vision for health systems to continue serving minority communities. 

These challenges unfortunately are not easy to overcome. However, in order for health systems to effectively serve minority communities, the greatest need is the realization that justice is central to the mission of public health and it requires equal disbursement of common advantages, resources, and the sharing of similar burdens. It captures the nexus of moral impulses that illuminate public health: to advance human well-being by improving health and to do so by focusing on the needs of the most disadvantaged. Social justice measures would significantly reduce some of the worst inequities in health care.

Health systems must continue to invest in strong public health interventions that address the needs of minority communities by highlighting the requirement for governmental action concerning the social determinants of health. Federal, state, and local governments must communicate, and work closely with health systems to achieve these high ideals. This level of teamwork is a solid example of commitment to the health—and equal worth—of all members of society. These efforts are especially central to the health-related needs of people who are poor and underserved. This is a solution-based approach; this is a day and time when public health practitioners must be focused on solutions!

With the ever-evolving realization by health systems that health care is a right and not a privilege, the opportunities are endless for improved health and health care toward minority communities.

*Ware holds a BSc in biology and an MSc in biology and alternative medicine from Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University. He aspires to become a Christian psychiatrist serving the poor and underserved.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.