April is National Minority Health Awareness Month
The LSMS is honoring Minority Health Awareness Month by sharing perspectives from a few of our members who are experts on this topic: Dr. Juan Gershanik, of New Orleans; Dr. Myra Kleinpeter, of New Orleans; and Dr. Gazi Zibari of Shreveport. All are recent LSMS Community Service award winners, and we are honored to have them share their thoughts on minority health issues.
Dr. Juan Gershanik
Minority health is a complex issue, but with concerted efforts to better communicate with our patients and placing more emphasis on wellness and prevention, we can narrow the gap of health inequality. Many factors have an influence on a person’s health – socioeconomic status, level of education, access to quality health care and we need to address those issues .
Nutrition and activity level are two factors that greatly affect a person’s health. Minority patients are more likely to have difficulty getting fresh food when they live in a neighborhood without a grocery store and may be unable to exercise if they do not live in a safe neighborhood. Then consider that transportation to a physician’s office or a clinic might not be readily available. These basic limitations put them behind the mark, even before you factor in any language barriers.
Specifically in the Latino population, I see significantly higher incidences of cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Other minority populations have similar issues and patient education is an important tool to achieve better health outcomes. With language barriers and cultural differences, sometimes even the most basic health care information is lost in translation. Increasing the number of Latino physicians and other healthcare professionals would help to overcome some of those problems.
We have one of the greatest health care systems in the world. Of course, we have room for improvement, especially when it comes to being more cost efficient and better serving all of our patients. Major steps for our health care system are to focus on better understanding the needs of the minority patients, to improve communication and to overcome barriers.
My own feeling of how much I owe this country for the opportunities given to me influences my desire to improve things in my community. Each of us can better serve our communities by beginning to address health care disparities and promote healthy living for everyone.
About Dr. Gershanik
The LSMS honored Dr. Gershanik at its annual meeting January 30, 2015, with the 2014 LSMS Physician Award for Community Service. He is the medical director of Newborn Services and is vice-chair of the Pediatrics Department at West Jefferson Medical Center. He also serves as a clinical professor of Pediatrics at the Tulane University School of Medicine. Some of his outstanding professional and community service efforts include:
• As head of the Neonatology Section at the LSU School of Medicine in Shreveport in 1971, he developed the first neonatal intensive care unit with an organized transport system for sick newborns in the state of Louisiana.
• When Katrina struck New Orleans, he assisted in evacuating NICU babies from Memorial (Baptist) Hospital to Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge.
• He led medical teams that participated in trade missions to Honduras, Panama, and Costa Rica.
• Served on various councils and commissions, including the Louisiana State Early Identification of Hearing Impaired Infants Advisory Council, the Louisiana Children’s Trust Fund, the Latino Commission, the Health Educational Authority of Louisiana, the Louisiana Advisory Committee on Midwifery, the Advisory Council to the Dean of the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and others.
• In addition, he serves as a board member of many non-profit organizations such as the Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse of Greater New Orleans, the Hispanic American Medical Association of Louisiana and the March of Dimes. He also hosted health educational programs on Spanish radio and TV.
Dr. Myra Kleinpeter
Despite substantial progress over the last decade, many disparities still exist when it comes to minority health care. At a basic level, access to care is still the most difficult challenge to overcome. Specifically, minority patients have a harder time paying for medications, accessing healthy foods and integrating exercise into their lives. Additionally, minority patients contend with more occupational hazards that have a lasting impact their health.
Historically, all of the aforementioned factors contribute to minority patients in Louisiana having higher rates of stroke, high blood pressure and obesity - just to name a few. To make matter worse, the difficulty in accessing health care means that minority patients often are diagnosed later in life, increasing the likelihood they they have several complications to contend with by the time they seek and receive care.
Obesity is a growing epidemic among all patients, and many efforts through schools and local communities are trying to better address this problematic health issue. Physicians across the state can join in these efforts to encourage their patients to choose heart-healthy living, to increase physical activity and to prioritize sleep and sleep hygiene for better health outcomes.
With minority patients, physicians should address how to mitigate occupational hazards, such as exposure to smoke and dangerous chemicals, with protective gear and other preventative measures.
The LSMS supports physicians in their efforts to deliver safe, quality health care to our citizens. As we recognize Minority Health Month,I hope we can each identify ways to close the gap of disparities that effect the health of our patients. I encourage patients to partner with their physicians to identify practical ways to improve their health by making better choices in their daily lives.
About Dr. Kleinpeter
Dr. Kleinpeter has a long and distinguished record of service to her community and surrounding area, highlighted by her being an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine. She is the director of Peritoneal Dialysis Program for Tulane/Dialysis Clinics, Inc., and the director of the Tulane Nephrology Clinic at the Medical Center of Louisiana. She serves on the Board of Trustees for the American Kidney Fund, and as chair of the Medical Affairs of the American Kidney Fund. She is a past president of the Board of for the National Kidney Foundation of Louisiana, as well as the Orleans Parish Medical Society. She currently serves as a Commissioner for Hospital District A in Orleans Parish for re-developing a community hospital in New Orleans East; conducts research on chronic disease management, outcome assessment, modifying patient education programs to improve health outcomes, and providing healthcare to underserved populations.
Dr. Gazi Zibari
One of the most important issues for my minority transplant patients is the inability to obtain their medications. Pharmaceutical programs for the indigent have vanished and there are not enough federal and state funds to support these patients.
In my practice, the biggest disparity facing minority patients is their difficulty in obtaining reliable transportation, especially for those patients who live out of town. They frequently cancel their clinic appointments and, unfortunately, this can have serious consequences including organ rejection.
I believe that this disparity has gotten worse over the last 10 years, at least here in Louisiana. In the past, medical transportation was provided and special funds were available for immunosuppression. Today, these resources are scarce. Additionally, it has become more difficult to find a consultant to care for Medicaid patients.
Dr. Zibari shared these suggestions for physicians who are trying to better address the needs of their minority patients:
About Dr. Zibari
In October 2010, Dr. Zibari organized and participated in the inaugural International Vietnamese–American Surgical Symposium in Hanoi. He also created a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, World Surgical Foundation of Louisiana, to help sustain medical outreach missions. Currently, he serves as the director of the John C. McDonald Regional Transplant Center and the director of the Advanced Surgery Center with Willis-Knighton Health System.
Some of Dr. Zibari’s outstanding community service efforts include medical mission work in two areas of the world that have experienced complex challenges regarding medical education and health care, specifically Kurdistan, Iraq; Hanoi, North Vietnam; and in Central America. His personal commitment to medical missions is a testament to his desire to provide, with great personal risk, humanitarian efforts and medical education to communities in desperate need of medical training and health care.