December 1, 2014, marked the passing of one of the great lights in the struggle for health equity – Lark Galloway-Gilliam. Lark served as the executive director of nonprofit health advocacy organization Community Health Councils (CHC) since its founding in 1992. That year may be a familiar one to the people of Los Angeles, and that’s because CHC was started as a direct response to the civil unrest. Many of the health care establishments that burned to the ground were owned by outsiders and perceived as out of touch with the needs of the community. Lark saw the need for change and – along with several other women in the community – brought together a coalition to address health issues in South Los Angeles.
Lark was a hero who fought for the underserved not only in Los Angeles and California, but across this country. She served as an innovative thinker in the public administration and nonprofit sectors for more than 25 years. She was the chair of the National REACH Coalition, a member of the Advancing the Movement Advisory Committee, and a Durfee Foundation Sabbatical Awardee. She served as chair of her local Neighborhood Council. Lark dedicated her life to social justice.
During Black History Month, we’re reminded that equality for the African American community includes health equity. A half century ago the civil rights movement succeeded in focusing the nation’s attention on the injustices faced by African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities and a broad consensus emerged – backed by a raft of federal legislation – in support of the idea that a person’s fate in life should not be predetermined by the color of their skin.
Although there has been incredible progress on a variety of fronts in the ensuing years, there remain significant disparities between the races in a number of critical areas, one of the most prominent being health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Americans and other people of color live shorter and less healthy lives than whites, and suffer from significantly and often dramatically elevated rates of, to name just a few, premature cardiovascular mortality, diabetes, and infant mortality. Researchers from the Institute of Medicine found that racial and ethnic populations receive significantly inferior health care services, even controlling for all other factors, resulting in worse treatment outcomes.
The land of sunshine, celebrities, and world-famous beaches is also home to 5,000 active oil and gas wells. These wells are spread across 10 oil fields and 70 different sites embedded in neighborhoods, parks, and commercial districts throughout the City of Los Angeles. Although oil drilling occurs in diverse neighborhoods ranging from affluent Cheviot Hills to pollution-burdened Wilmington, in a new issue brief, Oil Drilling in Los Angeles: A Story of Unequal Protections, Community Health Councils found low-income communities of color in the City have fewer protections from the risks from local oil drilling operations than more affluent, whiter neighborhoods.
What does “fewer protections” mean? When Zoning Administrators for Los Angeles determined the terms of drilling in affluent communities in the 1950s and 1960s, they noted oil drilling was an activity more suited for industrial zones, and only allowed drilling in the Wilshire and West Los Angeles areas after a strict set of precautionary measures were enacted. Precautionary measures included enclosing drilling equipment and/or sites, monitoring air quality and noise levels, creating a 24-hour hotline for complaints and concerns, and setting stringent property screening measures like tall trees and walls to block sight of unattractive equipment. The oil drilling that occurs in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods is either at least 400 feet farther away from homes than in the lower-income communities of South Los Angeles and Wilmington — where the majority of the residents are Latino and African American — or is partially or completely enclosed to protect the neighboring community from the myriad risks. Conversely, oil drilling in South Los Angeles and Wilmington is not only closer to homes than wealthier communities, but also completely outdoors.
The latest edition of our Health Equity Forum newsletter hit the virtual shelves today, and it features a lot of information on the most pressing health issues impacting California’s communities of color in 2015.
To start it off, our Executive Director, Sarah de Guia, summarizes the ongoing efforts to renew California’s 1115 Medi-Cal waiver, which has been instrumental in expanding the program in accordance with the Affordable Care Act. Renewing the waiver will help the state focus not just on expanding access to coverage, but implementing strategies to reduce health disparities as well.
We also have an article from B. Darcel Lee, President and CEO of the California Black Health Network (CBHN), one of CPEHN’s founding ethnic partner organizations. She gives a recap of CBHN’s Heroes in Health Gala.