Arizona Health Equity Conference Review

“Every child matters. Every family matters. These numbers are telling us we cannot wait. We need people who are healthy and educated.” -Dr. Flavio Marsiglia

The annual Arizona Health Equity Conference is a unique forum that unites 300 healthcare providers and professionals, nonprofits, researchers and more around one central cause: moving past the disparities that keep Arizonans from having healthy lives.  This event is unique in that it is put on by a Planning Committee of 15 volunteers from different nonprofit organizations around the Valley. Esperança has attended the event yearly, with a clear goal to brainstorm and identify paths to improve community health and create change in the existing healthcare delivery system.

This year, Esperança was represented on several levels. David Schlinkert, an Esperança Board member, presented compelling research on providing medical care for refugees in the United States, Tiffany Luu served for a second year on the Health Equity Conference Planning Committee, and program staff Anna Ortiz, Julieta Larios, and Xochitl Wilson attended as representatives for public health services. Read their takeaways from the event below:

Like education, positive health outcomes have the power to improve individual and community livelihoods: A healthy workforce makes Arizona more productive, competitive and equitable. At this year’s sixth annual Health Equity Conference in Phoenix, keynote speaker Dr. Flavio Marsiglia, Regents Professor at the School of Social Work in Arizona State University, enforced the idea that health programs should not only be evidence-based, but practice should inform evidence-based research. To ensure practice informs research, health and human service organizations must talk directly to the communities they serve about their needs and strengths, so that healthcare works with, instead of against, existing cultures and norms. Esperança prides itself in creating programs from the bottom-up, based on individual and cultural assets instead of deficits, and with direct feedback from the communities it serves. From its international programs (surgical missions and economic development) to its domestic programs (diabetes prevention, and access to dental and medical care) it strives to bridge global knowledge gaps about healthcare quality, access, and outcomes based on experiences from the field. For example, Esperança’s Domestic Program Director, Maria Valenzuela, has 20 years of experience with Esperança. Her ear-to-the-ground approach to community health empowerment means she brings community health concerns directly to leadership and the board of directors to inform the organization’s future practice-based evidence model.
Dr. Flavio Marsiglia’s keynote speech highlighted an important factor often not captured by the Social Determinants of Health, which is the Cultural Determinants of Health. He relayed how we often cite culture as a barrier to accessing services, reading food labels or improving health outcomes, however, it is time we shift our mindset to see culture as a resource we can nurture through our services and interventions. Culture is at the heart of Esperança’s programs. It is what defines our health education programs in Phoenix and what guides our community development projects abroad. I’m eager to see the impact this mind-shift will have on the health sector in Arizona.
I was most struck by the research project Dr. Flavio Marsiglia is conducting with our neighbors in Sonora, Mexico to examine why the social determinants of health in Mexico are becoming like those in the US. He found that although the Hispanic/Latino culture is known for family raising family, it is no longer the case. What they have found is that mothers are now working long hours and children are spending more time alone. This is due to work option that although underpaid maquiladoras “factories” have made it possible for mothers and fathers alike to earn more money. In addition, cultural health treatments and remedies, such as those provided by “curanderas” (healers), should be taken into consideration alongside evidence-based western medical treatment. Dr. Marsiglia’s research found that a healer’s methods may not necessarily treat the condition, but they do give the patient or family peace of mind that they or their loved one is being heard and taken care of.
In 2018, I was honored to be invited to sit on the Planning Committee for the Arizona Health Equity Conference. Many people don’t know this, but members of the Planning Committee are all volunteers outside of their regular-day jobs. This unique group represents 13 different organizations that share the same mission: to reduce health disparities and promote health equity through research, prevention, clinical care, and policy. Behind closed doors, each member contributes to the formation and success of the conference through expertise, skills, and networking in the health care field. Arizona Health Equity Conference prides itself on being one of the most affordable public health conferences for the state of Arizona. We want all professions to come together and learn the latest and greatest innovations and practices in tackling the issues of health disparities in Arizona. Each year, the conference has sold out with over 300 attendees including physicians, nurses, researchers, clinicians, public health professionals, community health workers, non-profit partners and more. With my time on the Planning Committee, I would like to express my gratitude to the past lead organizer, Mercy Care, and their representatives; Dr. Charlton Wilson, William Lester, and Teresa Pena. In 2020, we would like to welcome the next lead organizer to the table, Equality Health chaired by Lauriane Hanson. Equality Health is also a partner of Esperança has been an incredible supporter of Esperança’s Domestic Program, and we are looking forward to this event being the best yet!
The keynote speaker, Flavio Marsiglia, PhD gave an outstanding presentation regarding health disparities. He spoke about the importance of evidence-based practice and cultural healing adaptations for the well-being of not only an individual, but the entire community. Throughout his presentation, Flavio stated “La Cultura Cura” (the culture heals) and that is very true in our work. Having good health not only reflects on how someone eats, their habits, or the amount of physical activity but also their cultural beliefs and traditions. It is imperative to meet the community’s needs while being mindful of their culture. I enjoyed Flavio Marsiglia’s presentation because it allowed me to further reflect on the health and cultural impact we can have through the work of Esperança.

Esperança staff & Board pictured with keynote speaker, Dr. Flavio Marsiglia, at Arizona’s 2019 Health Equity Conference

Esperança staff & Board pictured with keynote speaker, Dr. Flavio Marsiglia, at Arizona's 2019 Health Equity Conference

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