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The second annual Latino Health Summit brought in hundreds of the state's Latino residents to highlight health care access issues and to push for the services they deserve.

The two-day event at the York Expo Center, sponsored by Harrisburg-based Latino Connection, began Wednesday, April 17, with multiple keynote speakers, several organizations and a wide range of health service providers.

“When the team and I decided to take on this endeavor, we did it with one purpose only: to connect resources to the most vulnerable communities in the state,” said Latino Connection CEO George Fernandez.

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Throughout the day Wednesday, there were a variety of sessions, including yoga, lessons about unconscious bias and information about access to integral health services and immigration and refugee services.

Roughly 450 individuals registered for the summit, as did about 60 vendors.

Although there were many events, one message remained prominent: Latinos face inequity regarding access to health care.  

State Office of Health Equity Director David Saunders wouldn’t say whether health equity has improved in recent years, but he said the conversation has been much more robust over the last decade.

Discussions Wednesday were partially based on data within the office's 2019 Health Equity Report, which highlighted problems regarding minorities' ability to have a fair shot at health.

An individual's health is about 20% determined by environmental or social factors, according to the report. Social determinants of health include housing, education, discrimination and socioeconomic status.

On average, Latinos make $18,000 less annually than whites in Pennsylvania, according to the report. The group also has lower graduation rates and higher poverty levels and teenage pregnancy rates.

“It’s historic,” Saunders said. "Those that have been given the opportunities tend to do well. It comes down to economics, power, which individuals get the best education and which live in the communities that have environments where health is easier to attain."

In part because of such economic factors, the study reported, 14% of Latinos are uninsured; 21% can’t see a physician because of the cost; 15% haven't taken prescribed medication because of the cost; and 23% have health care bills that are being paid off over time.

“If we don’t start now, we will have generations and generations who continue to have poor health outcomes," said Aerielle Waters, the OHE's public health program administrator.

Those working to address such issues, including the OHE, are emphasizing the dissemination of health-related information, research and policy-making to combat the discrepancy in coverage.

“We have the capacity to improve the lives of those in the most vulnerable communities,” Saunders said. “It’s a matter of will.”

Health care providers, including Aetna, a medical insurance company, were in attendance to do their part in helping Latino and other minority communities.

Jason Rottman, CEO of Aetna Better Health — the branch of the company that handles Medicaid, said addressing the issues can be difficult because of limited resources, but the company is throwing all it can at the efforts. 

"We need to be local and be in each community trying to understand what the barrier is," Rottman said. "Within the minority community, there are slightly different factors (for lack of access). We have to tailor it a little bit to understand what the driver is."

From there, providers can address barriers including language and transportation, he said. For example, Aetna has translators on staff for their services.

Thursday marked the second and final day of the summit, which again included vendors and continued the theme of access to health services and other problems facing the Latino community.

Keynote events included a public-health impact panel and a session dedicated to HIV prevention services.

Attendees also had the opportunity to learn about a variety of diseases affecting the Latino community, oral health and barriers to health care, such as transportation.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD

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