Healthcare Entrepreneur & Advocate Sheila Thorne Tells Us Why We Should Honor National Minority Health Month
New York City has one of this highest health care gaps in the country, according to a report issued by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute which in 2011 ranked the nation’s counties on various measures of health. Among New York City’s five counties (boroughs), Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island land relatively high among New York’s 62 counties, while Brooklyn and the Bronx fall at or near the bottom.
This only highlights the continued need for a commitment to minority health concerns, particularly during April–National Minority Health Month. The theme for 2016 National Minority Health Month is “Accelerating Health Equity for the Nation.” National Minority Health Month began 100 years ago as National Negro Health Week. In April 1915, Dr. Booker T. Washington dispatched a letter to the leading African-American newspapers, proposing the observance of “National Negro Health Week.” He argued: “Without health and long life, all else fails.” That observance evolved into what is today a month-long initiative to advance health equity across the country, on behalf of all racial and ethnic minorities–National Minority Health Month.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health leads the observance of National Minority Health month each year, and joins with federal, state, tribal, local and territorial partners across the country in calling for a renewed commitment to eliminate health disparities and achieve health equity. This year’s the focus is “Accelerating Health Equity for the Nation.”
“National Minority Health Month is still very much-needed,” says multicultural healthcare marketing expert Sheila Thorne, who has spent more 20 years designing and implementing marketing communications, cross-cultural health education, diversity, and cultural competency training initiatives and campaigns for diverse populations and the healthcare professionals who treat them through the company she founded, Multicultural Healthcare Marketing Group, LLC. “Healthcare disparity is still way too large. Even with the progress made by the Affordable Care Act and making sure people have insurance, minorities still don’t have proper access to healthcare, they aren’t included for clinical trials. There still needs to be a focus on the diseases that affect them. Blacks are still dying sooner and suffering from more chronic diseases. We have to find out why.”
Thorne, who is also an Associate Clinical Professor Stony Brook University School of Social Welfare, has been recognized countless times for her efforts to improve healthcare for minorities–she was awarded the title of “Distinguished Professor” by the National Black Alcoholism and Addictions Institute developed in collaboration with Morehouse School of Medicine. She is the recipient of the National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer “Unsung Heroes” Award for her innovative marketing strategies to reach communities of color and she also received the prestigious NAACP Freedom Fund Award for her efforts to secure quality healthcare for all, especially the underserved.
According to Thorne, the Affordable Care Act has helped in closing the gap. In fact, in New York, 408,841 consumers selected or were automatically re-enrolled in quality, affordable health insurance coverage through the Marketplace as of Feb. 22, reports Health Care U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “The Affordable Care Act took a giant leap to transform the industry. It was a major step forward, unfortunately the Supreme Court has changed some vital aspects through two major rulings. For example, under the original law everybody was to be covered but the court left the state to decided, this was not the ACA Obama envisioned,” notes Thorne, who is published in Pharmaceutical Executive, PharmaVoice, Medical, Marketing & Media, HealthLeaders.com and the Journal of Multicultural Medicine. “But overall I think the ACA was a brilliant plan. Though I don’t think the government spent enough time educating the people about it–they were busy putting out fires. So I still spend a lot of time touring the country and educating communities about ACA. I have done more than 100 presentations in Black churches, in community based groups.”
The South Bronx-born Thorne was a former high school teacher of foreign languages before entering the healthcare industry. Today, she focuses on professional and patient advocacy for racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse populations. Through her Multicultural Healthcare Marketing Group Thorne has worked on behalf of the top 50 pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies. She is past president of the Coalition of 100 Black Women Manhattan Chapter; past chair of the Health Committee of the National Council of Negro Women Bronx Chapter; past president of the Black Public Relations Society of Greater New York; past member of the Board of Trustees of the Northern New Jersey Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, a past board member of two New York City hospitals and sat on the Dean’s Advisory Council of the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey.
Thorne remains committed to her mission and she will continue the fight until the United States reaches parity when it comes to health.