You get to a point in your life when you realize that helping others is one of the most important things you can do. In my case, this realization came in
the form of addressing health disparities during my work as an Emerging Leader with the Pacific and Southwest Regional Health Equity Council (RHEC). I
discovered my passion for advocating for underserved populations through researching the barriers that affect the quality and access of care provided to
the elderly Asian American population in nursing homes for my Master’s thesis. I approached this study through different levels of analysis, and at the
completion of my research, I developed the desire to study and effectively reduce the disparities that affect these populations.
I was familiar with Dr. Peter Wong’s work advocating for minorities and health equity via Asians and Pacific Islanders with Disabilities of California
(APIDC), so I decided to reach out to him to express my interest in helping him advocate for underserved individuals. That is how I learned about the
Pacific and Southwest RHEC summer internship and, more specifically, their desire to study the plausibility of using health information technology to
reduce health disparities within certain populations.
Peter and I decided to limit the scope of the study to a single population within Southern California. We chose to study the Cambodian (Khmer) population
in Long Beach because in the past few years, the community has grown to more than 20,000 members, which constitutes approximately 4 percent of Long Beach’s
total population. This number of Khmer residents is the largest Khmer population in any city outside of Southeast Asia. I conducted a literature review on
why the Khmer population was underserved, assessed the current health communication practices present in the community, and identified community leaders
that we could target for interviews to obtain a deeper understanding of the population.
Understanding the Khmer population requires a comprehensive understanding of the culture as well as their experiences during the Khmer Rouge holocaust and
the resulting refugee experiences. From 1975-1978, when the Khmer Rouge was in power, all the schools were shut down, everyone was forced to work beyond
their capabilities, non-communist leaders were killed and many people either starved or were left to die from disease. Most Khmer over age 25 have memories
of the concentration camp experiences.
These experiences significantly shape the population’s overall mistrust of the government, which makes it difficult to disseminate health information
through the traditional means of government-provided materials. Peter and I learned quickly that interviewing trusted community leaders would be the best
way to map the flow of important information within the community and determine ways to distribute appropriate and effective health information and
services throughout the community.
To date, we have conducted two interviews with prominent Khmer community leaders in Long Beach, and the information that we have received so far is
astounding. The overarching theme with the interviews so far is that trust, cultural relevance and consistency are extremely important to Khmer individuals
when it comes to healthcare.
Accordingly, we are working to partner with/use the religious and community-based organizations that the Khmer population trusts to disseminate health
information and encourage the community to seek out healthcare. The first set of interviews has been very encouraging, and I look forward to unlocking ways
to reach the Khmer population in Long Beach, and increase the access, quality and appropriateness of the health services that will be available to them.
Our findings will be presented in a series of short papers that will be available by summer 2015. This work has helped to guide my commitment to ensure
that culturally and linguistically appropriate practices are utilized in health and social services as a first step toward achieving health equity.
To find out more about our work, visit the Pacific and Southwest Regional Health Equity Council (RHEC) website.
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Kevin R. Jacinto is a Pacific and Southwest RHEC Emerging Leader who works with the Disease Management Department at L.A. Care Health Plan, the largest public health plan in the country. He works specifically with the Asthma disease program, which serves over 90,000 Medi-Cal, Medicare, PASC-SEIU, Covered California, and Healthy Kids beneficiaries in Los Angeles County. Kevin holds a Master of Health Administration from the University of La Verne, and a Bachelor of Science in Public Health Sciences from the University of California, Irvine.