Health officials find disparities in health care received by minority communities in Utah

Nov 15, 2021, 6:34 PM
Hepatitis kids Utah...
FILE: Utah health officials are unclear about what caused two cases of a severe liver illness in children. Photo: KSL TV.

SALT LAKE CITY — Health care officials in Utah say there are troubling gaps among minority communities across the state.  They say there are racial inequities in most of the standards they measure for public health. 

Gaps in minority health care

Analysts with the Utah Department of Health have noticed gaps between the kind of health care received by the state’s African-American, Latino, Native American, Asian and Pacific Islander for several years, well before the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the problem.  They’ve combed over data from 2015 and 2019 and released their findings to the public.

Brittney Okada with UDOH’s Office of Health Disparities says they measured 77 standards of public health, including the number of people who receive regular health check-ups, first trimester pregnancy care, colon cancer screenings, mammograms and regular dental exams.  Okada says they found racial disparities in 71 percent of these standards.

“Access to care is one of them.  Un-insurance rates or people who have a primary care provider [are others], but there are lots of indicators, like infant mortality and diabetes deaths,” Okada said.

For instance, the report says 25.9% of all Utahns were told they had high blood pressure between 2017 and 2019.  However, among African-Americans, 38.5% had higher-than-healthy blood pressure during that same time.  Plus, members of all communities of color were more likely to be living in poverty than Whites in Utah.

“We have seen that there are health disparities that have persisted over a long time,” Okada said.

Minority communities more likely to say they can’t afford insurance

Analysts say over 35% of Utah’s Hispanic population doesn’t have health insurance. And minority communities are more likely to report they don’t have medical insurance because they can’t afford it.

She said, “[We look] across maternal-infant health, violence and injury prevention, access to care… we’re seeing disparities in each of those areas.”

Okada says this report doesn’t fully explain why all of these disparities exist, whether it’s due to poverty, unhealthy behavior or lack of confidence in the medical system.  The department plans to examine this data further to identify the factors that lead to these gaps.  However, Okada says UDOH is beefing up their community outreach to inform more communities of color on how they can get proper care.

She said, “One of our examples is our COVID Community Partnership Project where we are contracting over 30 community-based organizations across the whole state.”

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Health officials find disparities in health care received by minority communities in Utah