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Health risks detailed in study

Perils high among Hispanics, blacks

Email|Print| Text size + By Stephen Smith
Globe Staff / November 29, 2007

From one end of Massachusetts to the other, Hispanics and African-Americans disproportionately bear the burden of disease and violence, according to a report released yesterday that provides the most detailed account ever of healthcare disparities in the state.

The study from the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services examined trends in five regions and found, for example, that Hispanics living on the western edge of Massachusetts are the most likely to die from AIDS, with a death rate 10 times above the state average. In the swath of central Massachusetts that includes Worcester, black babies were less likely to reach their first birthdays than children anywhere in the state, with an infant mortality rate four times the state average.

"The thing I find most striking about the report is that disparities are very pervasive across the state," said Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, health secretary in the administration of Governor Deval Patrick. "In previous reports, when you just look at the data for all of Massachusetts, people make assumptions" about where problems exist.

Along with the release of the report, the Patrick administration announced it was awarding $1 million in grants to 42 clinics, hospitals, and community groups to combat the disparities. The grants will, for example, allow Worcester's health department to open an office of healthcare equity, pay for a mobile information van that helps consumers better understand the complexities of doctor's recommendations, and develop methods for better educating patients about diabetes.

In the past two years in Massachusetts, healthcare disparities have emerged as a major political and social issue, with Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino describing it as the most pressing medical problem in the city.

Elmer Freeman, a Northeastern University specialist in the study of healthcare disparities, yesterday described the new report - available online at mass.gov/dph - as a milestone because "it allows us to have the data and look at interventions that are going to be put in place to see if we have an impact."

And the commitment of $1 million shows the Patrick administration "has put money and resources as well as its political will behind it and that makes me optimistic that it will begin to be addressed," said Freeman, executive director of Northeastern's Center for Community Health Education, Research and Service.

Stephen Smith can be reached at stsmith@globe.com.

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