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As a first-generation Caribbean American, I often draw inspiration from my greatest role models — my parents. Their courage to leave our family’s native country of Haiti in order to create an even better life for our family is forever imprinted in my mind. They were not fleeing the country, in fact, my mother was an elementary school teacher and my father was a school principal. America represented for them what it represents for many immigrants, a nation of opportunity.
My parents taught my siblings and me the values of hard work, compassion, sacrifice, perseverance and dignity through stories of their first jobs in the U.S. My mother was a live-in nanny and my father painted boats for $1.75/hour. My parents performed their jobs to the best of their ability, not telling their employers or co-workers of their professions in Haiti, for they knew that respect would be earned by the quality of their work and not the titles that they held. From this humble environment came my passion to serve others, which in turn drew me to medicine and public health. And many other Caribbean Americans have shared a similar experience.
Together, we represent countless contributions to the American landscape in fields ranging from science to art, business to government, academia to entertainment and sports — contributions that can be directly traced to steadfast resilience born from the unyielding hope, fierce determination and loving selflessness of our families. Caribbean American Heritage Month in June is an opportune time for us to recognize the individual threads that have been woven into the vibrant cultural tapestry of the U.S. by Caribbean Americans.
This month, I, along with many others, express gratitude to individuals of Caribbean descent who have paved the way to opportunity. And it is the recognition of the contributions of immigrants and refugees that inspired President Obama to establish the White House Task Force on New Americans, a government-wide effort tasked with better integrating immigrants and refugees into American communities in three key areas: civically, economically and linguistically.
As the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health, I carry the distinct honor of advancing efforts to increase access to better health and health care for all, including our Caribbean American brothers and sisters. And that includes ensuring that health and health care organizations provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services to the diverse communities they serve as a means of improving quality, reducing health disparities and advancing health equity.
Health inequities in our nation are well documented, and the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care are an important tool to help eliminate health inequities. The provision of services that are respectful of and responsive to the cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy levels, and communication needs of diverse individuals and communities are critical to closing the gap in health outcomes.
After all, health is at the foundation of opportunity. It provides the freedom to pursue your dreams and fulfill your potential. And when all among us have the opportunity to live healthy lives and reach our full potential, it strengthens us all.
Visit our website to learn more about the HHS Office of Minority Health and the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care.
Ed. note: This was originally published on The White House Blog.
Today, the Obama administration is launching the “Healthy Self” campaign to encourage healthy lifestyles and connect people to the coverage and care they need. But first let us tell you about Alicia. A wife and mother of two from Houston, Alicia knows how important her health is, not only for her, but for the people she loves. As she describes it, “When mom gets sick, the whole family feels it.”
For years, people like Alicia have been priced out of coverage, but thanks to the Affordable Care Act, she and her husband – along with millions of other Americans – were able to find quality plans they could afford. And Alicia didn’t waste time putting that new coverage to good use. “I went to my general practitioner and gynecologist,” she said. “I finally had all the exams I’d been putting off.” And since breast cancer runs in her family, and she was considered high-risk, she was also gene tested to assess her risk of developing breast cancer at no out-of-pocket cost, as it was a covered preventive service.
“After checking off all of those health to-do’s, I was energized and ready to tackle just about anything,” Alicia said. “It’s a relief for me because, as a mom of two boys, I want to be around for them for a long time.”
Obtaining health insurance is an important step for anyone looking to keep themselves and their family healthy, which is exactly what more than 16 million people have done since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, contributing to the largest reduction in the nation’s uninsured rate in four decades. But we only realize the full value of that coverage when we use it to access the types of preventive services that will keep us healthy.
Every year, chronic diseases – including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes – are responsible for 7 of every 10 deaths in America. These illnesses account for 75 percent of the nation’s health spending, yet each is either preventable or much more effectively treated if caught early. This is why the Affordable Care Act guarantees that certain preventive services are covered under most private insurance plans. Today, 137 million Americans have guaranteed access to recommended preventive care and services – with no out-of-pocket costs – making it easier to keep themselves healthy with regular checkups, screenings, and vaccinations. And by allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health care plans until age 26, the ACA ensures that they have access to preventive care, as well.
Still, young people often avoid preventive care because they are worried about cost, or as anyone who has lived through their twenties and thirties can tell you, they feel invincible. Too often, young adults bypass checkups and screenings, miss the potential to catch problems early, and end up using the most expensive option available—the Emergency Room.
That’s why we are working to promote a better, smarter, and healthier health care system with engaged, educated, and empowered people at the center of it. In addition to picking the right coverage and taking advantage of preventive care and screenings, remaining healthy requires a daily commitment to take control of our own health with healthy eating and exercise.
Be Your Healthiest Self
How are you investing in your health? Show us using #HealthySelfie! pic.twitter.com/XTh0Q7p9HU— Sylvia Burwell (@SecBurwell) June 11, 2015
How are you investing in your health? Show us using #HealthySelfie! pic.twitter.com/XTh0Q7p9HU
Today’s launch of the “Healthy Self” campaign represents a joint effort between the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the Surgeon General, to promote healthy living and to highlight preventive services available for the newly insured, as well as for those who have always had insurance. We have already confirmed 50 events to be held in communities across the country through August, and we will be partnering with the private sector to educate Americans about preventive actions they can take to stay healthy and well. That includes healthy eating, leading a tobacco-free and drug-free lifestyle, taking care of emotional and mental well-being, and of course – taking advantage of preventive services like vaccinations and recommended cancer screenings that are now offered at no out-of-pocket cost.
I commit to exercise every day, even if that means taking the long walk to work.
Share your #HealthySelfie with me! pic.twitter.com/OjSUUtsqUM— Valerie Jarrett (@vj44) June 11, 2015
I commit to exercise every day, even if that means taking the long walk to work.
Share your #HealthySelfie with me! pic.twitter.com/OjSUUtsqUM
And we need your help as well. Commit to making your health a priority and join the Healthy Self campaign today, by posting a “#HealthySelfie” on social media. We'll be sharing them on WhiteHouse.gov/Health-Care-in-America. It could be a photo of you working out, choosing a salad or fruit over less healthy options, bypassing the elevators to take the stairs, or heading into the doctor’s office for a checkup. Anything that conveys your commitment to your healthy self, and that may move your friends and followers to follow your lead.
We all deserve to live healthy, secure lives – not just for ourselves, but for our families and loved ones as well. Spread the word on the Healthy Self campaign, post a #HealthySelfie, and invest in your own health and well-being. It’s an investment we can all afford to make.
Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor to the President. Sylvia Burwell is Secretary of Health and Human Services