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Ex-health secretary decries lack of diversity in medicine

Dr. Louis Sullivan speaks at University of Florida

If one in four Americans is a member of a racial or ethnic minority, why are these minority populations still not well-represented in the health professions?

The question was voiced recently by Dr. Louis Sullivan, former U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, as he spoke to health professionals at the University of Florida.

Sullivan told the group that the ongoing disparity as a nation “between our white population and those who are people of color costs us all.”

In too many cases, race or ethnicity still determines health status, access to health care and health outcomes, Sullivan said.

In 2009, 17 to 18 percent of the U.S. gross national product went toward health care, he said, a larger expenditure than for either defense or education.

“In spite of the fact that we [in the United States] spend more money on health care than other developed countries, we are not the healthiest nation on earth,” he said.

With a population of baby boomers expected to grow from 37 million in 2006 to 88 million by 2050, and 32 million uninsured Americans entering the health care system as a result of the new health care reform act, Sullivan warns that “a tsunami is about to hit” the nation's health care resources.

Sullivan, president emeritus of Morehouse School of Medicine, now heads the Sullivan Commission to seek solutions to a lack of diversity in the health care workforce.

He points out that although about 30 percent of the population is in a minority group, only about 9 percent of the nurses, doctors, public health workers and dentists who provide their care represent a minority.

Speaking on the first anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, Sullivan said, “Once the noise and debate has subsided, I hope our legislators will focus on improving the legislation, rather than political gain.”

He said he would like to see more attention and support for health initiatives that stress prevention and wellness.

“We not only have to have legislation but health professionals in place to provide those services,” Sullivan said.

He puts the cost of health disparities over a three-year period — in direct medical costs, indirect costs such as loss of productivity and wages, and the cost of premature death — at $1.24 trillion, based on a study between 2003 and 2006.

“Florida, as an increasingly diverse state, has a pressing need for more diversity in its health professionals,” Sullivan concluded.

From: The Gainesville Sun

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