Six prominent health care leaders and advocates for the Asian American community convened May 26 for a virtual panel to discuss a variety of issues ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact, burnout in the health care workforce, cultural stereotypes and the rising number of violent attacks against Asian Americans in recent months.
Moderated by Priya Bathija, AHA’s vice president of strategic initiatives, the panel shared how hospitals and health systems can join efforts to advocate for the Asian American community to help reach our common goal of achieving health equity. Here are their insights, stories and lessons learned.
- Listen and educate without judgement.
While health care leaders are eager to get as many individuals vaccinated as possible, we also know that many have fears, hesitancies and questions about the COVID-19 vaccines. For Christine Pabico, director of the Pathway to Excellence Program at the American Nurses Association, educating individuals in her community about the vaccine began with listening, followed by addressing their concerns. “I start out by asking what fears they have,” she said. “…and hopefully they make the best decisions for themselves and their family.”
- Work to alleviate language, educational and cultural barriers.
COVID-19 has had devastating impacts on many communities, particularly communities of color and minorities – populations that even pre-pandemic faced unique challenges in accessing health care, overcoming language barriers in health care settings and finding credible, reliable public health information, Pabico emphasized.
In addition, collecting good data on Asian American communities is crucial to improving overall health outcomes and advocating for change. “For the Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander communities… even before the pandemic, our communities always faced a challenge of this notion of invisibility,” said Juliet Choi, president and CEO of Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum. She emphasized the importance of good data and word choice, particularly during COVID-19, to help health care leaders capture, understand and underscore what these communities are experiencing in efforts to combat the “invisibility” problem.
With such diversity within the Asian American community, the need for greater specific, reliable data is more important than ever.
- Empower through education and a reliance on trusted messengers.
Helping individuals understand their rights is an essential component to encouraging Asian American communities to receive the vaccine and get needed health care services. For Hyun Namkoong, a policy advocate at the North Carolina Justice Center, that meant working with her organization to create a series of fact sheets for immigrants to understand what their rights are in receiving the vaccine (some are being asked to provide proof of health insurance). The fact sheets are available in a variety of languages and dialects. In addition, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum created a host of resources, including fact sheets and infographics as part of combat hate crime toolkit (https://www.apiahf.org/hate-crime-resources/) with basic and critical information for victims, community-based organizations and community leaders.
For Harsh Trivedi, M.D., president and CEO of Sheppard Pratt and an AHA Trustee, that meant working to inspire vaccine confidence through personal messages from the organization’s workforce, which represents people from all backgrounds and nationalities talking about their “why” – why they chose to get the COVID-19 vaccine. In collaboration with AHA, this campaign highlights the joyous reasons motivating individuals to get vaccinated. Often, reuniting with family resonates as this community’s top reason.
“If you can see someone who looks like you, sounds like you and is sharing a lot of the things that are important to you, all of a sudden you think, maybe I should be doing this,” Trivedi said.
- Develop partnerships, collaborations to help with community outreach.
Nadine Chang, a psychologist at Gracie Square Hospital and an assistant attending psychologist at NY-Presbyterian Hospital, is working tirelessly to normalize stress, anxiety and depression in her community in efforts to de-stigmatize mental health issues. Asian American communities are often already hesitant to receive health care.
“Not only is it limited knowledge and access to resources [presenting as barriers], but then you add on the stigma of mental health and mental illness, and that’s an additional obstacle to people receiving services….and we’re seeing this throughout,” Chang said.
Understanding these sentiments spurred her hospital’s community outreach efforts. She continues to collaborate with community organizations to provide educational resources, such as working with the Chamber of Commerce to provide PPE; hosting town halls, workshops and community-wide lectures; discussing mental health openly; and sharing resources in several languages.
- Acknowledge the cultural stigma around mental health in the Asian American community, which has taken a toll with the surge of recent violent attacks and hate crimes.
Trivedi underscored how taboo it is in many Asian American communities to acknowledge challenges in their own mental health journeys. But the COVID-19 pandemic brought isolation, depression and anxiety levels to an all-time high, as individuals were barred from gathering with multi-generational family members, as is the norm in these communities, Trivedi said.
“The problem is also in our community, just like in the black and brown community, where there’s this overwhelming belief that, well, mental health issues don’t happen within our community,” Trivedi said. “There isn’t a willingness to talk about it. And even if you do, it’s really hard to find therapists and providers that understand culturally where you’re coming from or being able to help or even look like you.”
However, Trivedi anticipates that for many individuals, the light at the end of the tunnel with the global pandemic may bring a wave of mental health challenges.
“While [COVID-19] infections may be down, I think we’re only starting to see the beginning of what is kind of the tsunami of mental health effects of COVID just begin,” said Trivedi.
- Understand the effects of the uptick in anti-Asian violence.
Unfortunately, due to the surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans in the last several months, Choi said that many Asian Americans feel uncomfortable going out in public to get their COVID-19 vaccine and are choosing to forgo needed medical care as a result.
Trivedi emphasized the need to advocate for change.
“Culturally it’s so against the grain to speak up that when those macroaggressions happen or violence happens, often times, we see people stay quiet,” he said. “It’s something we need to change.”
AHA hopes to host more discussions focused on this community as we continue our work to improve health equity.
You can watch a full replay of the panel here.