Today the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released its Health Equity Report for 2018, which shows progress and areas for continued improvement for a healthier North Carolina.
“The report provides clear data on health disparities across a variety of conditions and metrics, like breast cancer, infant mortality, heart disease, obesity, the opioid crisis and insurance coverage status,” said Cornell Wright, executive director of the N.C. Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities. “While it details some areas where we have made progress in closing gaps and addressing inequities, it also illustrates how much work we have left to do to build a healthier, more equal state.”
For example, the report highlights the infant mortality rate is 7.2 per 1000 births — well above the national average. Further, this topline number, itself disappointing, masks significant racial disparities, with African American and American Indian babies two to three times more likely to die than white babies.
North Carolina has taken steps in recent years to address this gap and decrease the infant mortality rate. The state’s collaborative Perinatal Health Strategic Plan focuses on improving healthcare for women and men, strengthening families and communities, and addressing social and economic inequities. Some key elements include supporting women and men to be healthier before and between pregnancies, including increased access to affordable healthcare and provision of tobacco cessation treatment and counseling, pregnancy intendedness through reproductive life planning and access to highly effective contraceptives, and addressing social determinants of health inclusive of institutional racism and its impact on families and communities.
The cost of healthcare continues to impact minorities in North Carolina at a higher rate than whites. Overall, 15 percent of adults could not afford to see a doctor. This barrier to healthcare was most prevalent among Hispanics/Latinos (27 percent) and African Americans (18 percent), while affordability was an obstacle to 13 percent of whites.
The report looks at opioid overdose and notes related emergency department visits doubled since 2009 to 5,722 in 2017. It makes the case for more focused attention on this crisis that is exacerbated by overprescribing of opioids and the escalating flow of synthetic narcotics, like fentanyl. More than 1,100 deaths in North Carolina were due to opioid-related causes in 2015, a 73 percent increase in the past 10 years. Heroin use and overdose in communities of color has been an issue for decades, the report states.
DHHS remains committed to working with its partners to understand and address disparities and to build a healthier state for North Carolina families.
The N.C. Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities (OMHHD) was established by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1992 to promote and advocate for the elimination of health disparities among all racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved populations across the state. The office is part of the North Carolina Division of Public Health in the NC Department of Health and Human Services.