Together We Are Stronger
The Multicultural Health Institute (MHI, the-mhi.org) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit established in 1995 by Dr. Lisa Merritt, MD. Its core mission is to address health disparities in the medical system and redirect and target care to the affected communities. MHI seeks to level the healthcare playing field by promoting, educating, and ensuring equal healthcare access and treatment for individuals and communities who are traditionally uninsured and receive a poor quality of care. We support programs that educate, identify, and test for diseases such as Cancer, Diabetes, Obesity, Stroke, Cardiovascular Disease, Infant Mortality, HIV/AIDS, and other health issues affecting under-represented communities across the United States which also help reduce the costs of healthcare.
“Each one help each one” has become the heartbeat of MHI in collaboration with a growing coalition of volunteers, community-facing agencies, and community-based organizations. COVID-19 has exposed the glaring need to address the many disparities in health, healthcare, and socioeconomics, particularly for those of African descent as well as Latinx and other minority populations in America. The most vulnerable among us are those with medically complex conditions; the pandemic has disproportionately affected Blacks.
MHI mobilized early in March 2020 to respond to the pandemic’s impact on diverse populations at higher risk; nearly 7,000 people received direct assistance from these efforts by August 2020. MHI expanded these efforts using a cooperative approach to reduce the spread of COVID-19, particularly among disproportionately impacted communities in Manatee County where nearly half the caseload was among people of color. A partnership of organizations formed the Multicultural Action Team (M.A.T.) and qualified for the Manatee CARES Act funding with a $342K grant (of $4.42 million the county earmarked for community health and wellbeing) for collaborative actions from August 3 through December 30, 2020; the MAT has served over 30,000.
The M.A.T. includes: Tidewell Hospice as the fiscal agent to administer the grant, UnidosNow, the Latin Chamber of Commerce (GCLCC), Healthy Teens Coalition of Manatee County Inc. (HTC), The Links Inc. Bradenton/Sarasota Chapter, the Resilient American Communities (RAC) an initiative of Health Initiatives Foundation Inc. which stewards the community Dashboard, and New College of Florida (NCF) with nine student interns and three faculty members. As the chamber website declares, "Together, we will find a way or build a new one."
The initiatives generally focused on distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE); education of best practices in multiple and culturally appropriate languages through a variety of media; community-based assessments of conditions and needs; testing and connecting individuals to appropriate resources; tracking results and working to develop community-oriented solutions while advocating for resources and appropriate responses from the healthcare system and social institutions.
Lisa Merritt, MD Multicultural Health Institute (MHI) - History/Backgrounds
Nationally, although African-Americans make up 13 percent of the population, they represent a third of deaths related to COVID-19. Numerous well-known social determinants of health drive the multicultural disparities that exist in healthcare and socioeconomic outcomes for the ethnic and cultural minority communities in the United States, particularly within Hispanic/Latinx and African-American communities which comprise 14.9 percent and 8.7 percent of the Manatee County population, respectively.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, the COVID-19 crisis has subjected minorities to even more unsafe conditions as only 16.2% of Hispanic workers and 19.7% of Black workers are able to work from home (i.e., telework) [A]. The CDC concedes that multigenerational or multi-family housing conditions may pose a challenge to protecting older household members or isolating if space is limited [B]. These communities are also underserved because of language barriers in disseminating information.
Putting the PEARLS into Play
Collaborative efforts to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our communities, especially those among the African American and Latinx population through PREVENTION strategies to safeguard the most susceptible among us; EDUCATION to enable us to know better so we can do better; ADVOCACY to voice concerns and needs both of individuals and of the community; RESEARCH to gather data and details to make informed decisions; LINKAGE-to-Care to connect available resources and assistance in navigating the healthcare system; SOLUTIONS to address issues in the short-term and to resolve problems with long-term strategies, tools, and systems for the health and well-being of all within our reach and beyond.