The History of Hispanic Heritage Month
Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, commemorates how the Latinx and Hispanic communities have influenced and contributed to American society and culture. California Congressman George E. Brown (representing East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley) introduced Hispanic Heritage Month in June of 1968 amidst the Civil Rights Movement and the growing recognition of the importance of the various cultures across the U.S.
Under President Lyndon Johnson, Congress passed Public Law 90-48 to officially mark the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Week, which later expanded to a month in 1988. The monthly dates are notable because they coincide with the Independence Days of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, all of which gained independence from Spain on Sept. 15, 1821. Mexico declared its independence from Spain on Sept. 16, 1810; Chile gained its independence from Spain on September 18, 1810; and Belize declared independence from Great Britain on Sept. 21, 1981.
Health Disparities Among the Latinx & Hispanic Communities
Apart from celebrating the vast contributions of Latinx and Hispanic communities, it’s vital to recognize the healthcare challenges and disparities that those communities face on a daily basis. Approximately 1 in 6 people living in the U.S. self-identify as Hispanic and by 2035, according to the CDC, this could rise to nearly 1 in 4. Hispanic and Latinx health is often shaped by language and cultural barriers, lack of access to preventive care, and lack of health insurance. Some startling statistics that highlight the stark health disparities include:
The CDC found that Hispanic and Latino people are 50% more likely to die from diabetes or liver disease than white people.
Other alarming data from the CDC include:
Hispanic and Latinx people have 24% more poorly controlled high blood pressure; 23% more obesity; and 28% less colorectal screenings.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2019 nonelderly Hispanic and Latinx people remained more likely to lack health insurance than their White counterparts, even after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
The COVID-19 pandemic likely contributed to additional coverage losses, which could further widen healthcare disparities for Hispanic and Latinx populations with the unemployment rate rising from 4.2% to 11.2% between Q3 2019 and Q2 2020.
Additionally, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study, that examined providers excluded from Medicare due to fraud and abuse, found that patients who were treated before the provider was banned were more likely minorities, disabled individuals, and those dually-enrolled in Medicaid. These vulnerable patients may have experienced patient neglect, illegally-provided prescriptions, unnecessary medical procedures, deceitful billing practices, and untrained personnel contact. The researchers found that not only were more patients more likely to be non-white, 27% percent versus 25% seen by non-excluded healthcare providers, but they were also more likely to be dually-eligible for Medicaid, 38.8% versus 25.5%.
Lessening the Healthcare Disparities As Healthcare Providers & Professionals
According to the CDC the most pressing actions healthcare providers and professionals can take to help close the gap in healthcare disparities for Hispanic and Latinx communities include:
- Working with interpreters to eliminate language barriers, when a patient prefers to speak Spanish.
- Counseling patients on weight control and diet if they have or are at high risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, or cancer.
- Engaging community health workers (promotores de salud) to educate and link people to free or low-cost services.
Additionally, it’s absolutely critical that everyone, especially the most vulnerable patients, are protected from healthcare fraud and abuse. This includes working diligently to ensure that only the most qualified providers are on the frontlines providing care to people that need it the most. As we recognize and honor the immeasurable (and ongoing) contributions of the Hispanic and Latinx communities to our society and culture across the U.S. during Hispanic Heritage Month, we all need to do our part to make healthcare safer for everyone.