In 1985, the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services issued the Secretary’s Task Force Report of Black and Minority Health. The Report, clearly established that a disparity in health status existed between the majority and minority populations in the United State. The minority population was defined as African Americans, Latino/Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and Native American Indians. The report stated: “Despite the unprecedented explosion in scientific knowledge and the phenomenal capacity of medicine to diagnose, treat and cure disease, Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and those of Asian/Pacific Islander heritage have not benefited fully or equitably from those systems responsible for translating and using health sciences technology”.
In 1986, in response to this disparity the State of Ohio created the Governor’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health as a special project under the Ohio Department of Health.Executive Order 85-69 authorized the Task Force to:
- Examine the conditions under which gaps in the health and health care services for blacks and minority communities exist and recommend methods by which the gap could be closed.
- Design methods for disseminating health information and education materials especially designed for the minority community;
- Develop models to improve access and utilization of public health services;
- Develop strategies to improve the availability and accessibility of health professionals to minority communities’
- Establish the rules, regulations and procedures which are necessary or desirable for discharging the duties of the Governor’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health; and report to the governor the activities, findings, and recommendations of the Task Force.
Attempts to quantify the health status of Ohio’s minority population through traditional means proved futile. Data had been officially reported as white/non-white and there was a paucity of literature available specific to Ohio’s minority population.
In the fall of 1986, the Task Force decided to capitalize on the strengths of minority communities. In the tradition of oral storytelling the Task Force solicited the assistance of indigenous community leaders; traditional providers of service to the population including physician, community health centers, the faith community and elected officials (city, county and state), to schedule public hearings.
The public hearing, although standard in format, were designed to capture the unique flavor of each city. Hearings were conducted in Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown. With the guidance of indigenous leaders who were known, trusted and respected in their community, “real people” were identified to provide testimony. They shared their perspectives about their personal health status and that of their families and communities. Surprisingly, they also provided proposed solutions to the problems which were identified. The majority of the participants were uninsured, under-insured or seasonally insured. The essence of their collective testimony can be summarized as; desiring a focus on prevention of disease and wanting a vehicle to develop services in a culturally relevant manner. They also requested the creation of a state level entity to advocate for their health needs and with an ability to interface with all related human serving departments. They perceived the need to learn behaviors to improve their health but they also perceived the need for the system to change its behavior e.g., the need for systemic change to remove barriers to accessible, acceptable, available and affordable services.