Supervisors Connect Asian and Pacific Islander Communities to Essential Health Care Services

July 22, 2020 


SAN JOSE – The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday, July 21st, to approve a Community Health Worker program that will connect Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities to health care programs tailored to meet their unique needs. The program was initially proposed by County Supervisor Joe Simitian. The goal is to improve health outcomes for those in the API community who experience significant barriers to receiving healthcare.

While the program is especially timely given the current pandemic, Simitian said it “represents the fruition of years of work. If we have learned anything from this current crisis, however, it’s how important it is to connect vulnerable folks in our society with essential healthcare services in a way that works for them. It doesn’t do any good to offer services if they aren’t really accessible.”

“Healthcare is more than just making sure people get better when they are sick,” said Simitian, Chair of Santa Clara County’s Health and Hospital Committee. “It’s also about making sure people don’t get sick in the first place. This new effort, sponsored by the County, should make this a reality for many more residents, residents who might otherwise be isolated during times of need.”

“There has been a historical need to address the health disparities affecting Asian and Pacific Islander communities in a way that prioritizes their diverse health conditions, cultures, and socioeconomic experiences. The COVID pandemic has further highlighted the need for an urgent and targeted response to address these gaps,” said Sarita Kohli, President and CEO of Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI).

The program will be managed by a community-based organization (yet to be chosen) that will hire part-time community health workers with cultural and linguistic competency. These community health workers will connect all seven API subgroups identified by the 2016 Asian Health Assessment (initiated by Simitian) to resources and programs provided by the County; they will also share important information about COVID testing, new government issued shelter in place orders, COVID-relief assistance, and more.

The seven API subgroups include:

  • Asian Indian;
  • Chinese;
  • Filipino;
  • Japanese;
  • Korean;
  • Vietnamese, and;
  • Pacific Islander.

Removing barriers means improved access to primary care and reduced reliance on more costly urgent care, inpatient care, and emergency services. Connecting people to social services and health education can lead to improved health outcomes, especially now when new information related to the Coronavirus is coming forth on a regular basis.

“In times like these, is it more critical than ever that we streamline processes in which patients receive care," said Michele Lew, CEO of The Health Trust. "Creating a system where hard-to-reach populations can easily get tailored, helpful health information is just one of the ways Santa Clara County is forward-thinking."

The evidence to support the need for outreach work to the API community was identified in 2016 when, at the request of Supervisor Simitian, the County undertook the Asian Health Assessment. The data from this assessment and the focus groups that followed provided insight into the diverse health needs of different API communities.

More importantly, it identified specific disparities and barriers to accessing health care for each subgroup within the Asian community. Once identified, it was possible to develop strategies to overcome those barriers. Some health disparities that disproportionally affect API communities are struggles with mental health, senior isolation, hypertension, female breast cancer, etc.

The approach Simitian recommends relies on identifying a community-based organization with the support infrastructure and cultural competency to lead the program. This organization will need to have deep ties to all API subgroups in the County so they can identify culturally appropriate resources, such as physicians who speak the language of the patient, or exercise and nutrition classes that are culturally appropriate. The organization would also recruit and train community health workers that can connect people to those resources.

“The Community Health Worker model, using trusted community members with greater access to their own communities is the missing link between individuals and access to health resources,” said Kohli. “Building upon community partnerships and support from the County, we know that this program will move us closer to healthier outcomes for APIs. I thank Supervisor Simitian for initiating and shepherding this effort to fill these gaps that have long been a barrier to health care and successful health outcomes for APIs."



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