Pennsylvania requires innovative policy solutions | OP-ED
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Dear Governor Shapiro. We don’t have to tell you. The face of Pennsylvania is changing.
According to the 2020 census, the Latino community is the fastest growing segment of our population, accounting for more than 50% of the state’s growth in the last two decades. By 2040, multicultural segments will represent the majority of the Commonwealth.
But these growing communities don’t always benefit equally from the public policymaking intended to serve all of our citizens. Whether it’s equal access to economic opportunity, safe streets, affordable housing or healthcare services, the sweeping ethnographic and demographic changes we are seeing across Pennsylvania require innovative policy solutions and new thinking in order to create a vibrant future for everyone.
At Latino Connection, a Color & Culture catalyst, because of our mission to help engage and uplift hard-to-reach audiences, we have been particularly focused on the disparities in public health access and outcomes for the fast-growing Latino community. Latino health is often shaped by factors such as language and cultural barriers, lack of access to preventive care and a lack of health insurance. The stats are not good. Thirty-two percent (32%) of Latinos, who are mainly Spanish speaking, lack a primary care provider. Also, Latinos have the highest uninsured rates of any racial or ethnic group within the United States.
These alarming trends have been in your sights as well. You’ve acknowledged that underserved communities are confronted with a complexity of issues that impact public health, ranging from the opioid epidemic and gun violence to environmental issues, such as clean water and air. You’ve described a community health crisis in our rural neighborhoods where the network of emergency services, mental health and addiction support, and skilled healthcare workers has been further weakened by the pandemic.
In 2018, Latino Connection debuted a first-of-its-kind Latino Health Summit to bring the most pressing health issues in the Latino community to the forefront of conversation and collaboration. We partnered with influential thought leaders, private- and public-sector organizations, and members of the Latino community. With the help of healthcare companies, community organizations, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Commission on Latino Affairs, we set out to create a forum for practical problem solving, informed by real people and real-world experiences.
This year, the 3rd Annual Latino Health Summit and Adelante Health & Wellness Expo will take place April 6-8, in the new host city of Reading. This year’s theme, Restoring and Transforming Health in our Communities, will shine a light on an issue that now affects more than one million Pennsylvanians.
Why was Reading selected as this year’s host city? In Berks County, 1 in 4 residents are Latino. The percentage of adults in Berks County who report their health as fair or poor is trending in the wrong direction. In Reading, 18% of Latinos do not have health insurance, a rate that's nearly 8% higher than the Berks County average.
As you prepare to announce your first budget and plans to invest in our state’s most urgent policy priorities, we hope you will continue to take a holistic approach to the state’s public health crisis. What may be a focus on minority health today will set the stage for majority health tomorrow.
(*) CEO, Latino Connection, a Color & Culture catalyst
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