Photo provided by Tony Gillespie

Tony Gillespie is now the VP of Public Policy and Engagement at the Indiana Minority Health Coalition (IMHC) and his area of responsibility is “working with elected officials and the 22 agencies that IMHC funds to address all things policy, advocacy and related on the federal, county and municipal levels. This also includes oversight of marketing, communications and social media,” he says.

The Indiana Minority Health Coalition is a statewide agency that seeks to reduce health disparities and the incidence of chronic disease among minorities in Indiana through education, engagement, research and advocacy activities.

Here’s Gillespie’s perspective on health care, race and the impacts of diabetes and HIV/AIDS.

How has race impacted our health care system?
Despite significant advances in the diagnosis and treatment of most chronic diseases, there is significant evidence that racial and ethnic minorities tend to receive lower quality of care than non-minorities. Minority patients experience greater morbidity and mortality from various chronic diseases than non-minorities. Both the National Institute of Health and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on unequal treatment concluded “racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare exist. Specifically, Blacks experience the worse medical outcomes. Disparity in health care is defined as “racial or ethnic differences in the quality of health care that are not solely due to access-related factors or clinical needs, preferences, and appropriateness of intervention.” Over the last three to five years there has been renewed interest in understanding the sources of disparities, identifying contributing factors, and designing and evaluating effective interventions to reduce or eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in health care.

What are the top health issues that plague the African American community?
African American communities historically are disproportionately affected by all chronic health conditions. Heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes and HIV are among the top chronic conditions that affect African American communities. In Indiana, there is a great push to see a reduction in infant deaths.

Tell us about your prevention programs and how they work.
Through the coalitions and affiliates that we fund there are numerous evidence based interventions that are used to address chronic health conditions. The National Diabetes Prevention Program Change Your Lifestyle, Change Your Life is our newest prevention event. Funded by the National Centers for Disease Control through the Black Women’s Health Imperative, the goal of the program is to prevent or significantly delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes. This prevention program is extremely important as more African Americans of all ages, including youth and adolescents, are diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes.

What kind of support does IMHC need from the community to be more successful in fulfilling its mission?
Our mission is broad. We know that no one entity is solely responsible for improving community health. We work tirelessly to mobilize and engage not only the grassroots community but our elected officials, policy makers and decision makers, public health, healthcare systems and federal and state partners to address and reduce health disparities and chronic disease. Broad based engagement and action are needed to effectively address health disparities.

What role does politics play in the health care industry?
Politics, like it or not, plays a critical role in health care. We see it daily in the national news with the previous administration historic national health care plan to provide universal coverage and the current administration’s effort to repeal and replace with a less robust plan that may not provide adequate resources to serve all Americans. Fortunately for Indiana, we have a statewide insurance product that is a bi-partisan effort and is providing robust coverage for all of Indiana.

Tell us about the improvements that have been made with HIV/AIDS.
Great treatment strides have been made in moving HIV/AIDS from certain death if contracted to a chronic health condition that people living with HIV/AIDS now live longer and thriving. Prevention efforts continue to improve as well. While young Black gay men account for the [newest] infections, effective campaigns and intervention are being developed to see those new infection rates slow. Social stigma still exists, especially in African American communities, but significant process has been made at reducing stigma and having meaningful, solution focused dialogue. We can’t combat it if we can’t talk about.

Where do you see health care going in the next five years?
Health care in this country is wait and see right now. Great effort and energy went into creating a national health care plan that resulted in a decrease in health disparities. The same level of effort and energy is being used to dismantle the plan. It is critical now more than ever is that we all must become involved and contact our federal legislators and tell them how we feel about efforts to scrap our health care coverage. This is a time of action. We can’t be passive spectators that complain about the outcomes. Advocacy is a right and responsibility.

Yvette Caslin

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