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Linda Rosenberg

Former President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health

Inequality Is Killing Us: The National Council’s Addressing Health Disparities Leadership Program

January 29, 2018 | Time for Action | Comments
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“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” – Nelson Mandela

The headlines are glaring: The Opioid Crisis Is Getting Worse, Particularly for Black Americans. What the Dip in Life Expectancy is Really About: Inequality. Born into Rehab: Giving Life to West Virginia’s Tiniest Opioid Victims. Increasingly, we live in a world of haves and have-nots, and the have-nots are literally dying for help.

For the second straight year, life expectancy in the U.S. has dropped, something that hasn’t happened since the 1960s. So called “deaths of despair” – fueled by opioids, alcohol and suicide – caused death rates for white, middle-aged, working class Americans to rise by 22 percent between 1999 and 2014. And we have long known that people of color and other disenfranchised communities receive less and lower quality care for mental illnesses and substance use disorders. These stark disparities cry out to be addressed.

  • In New York City, 53 percent of participants in methadone programs are Latino and 23 percent are black; nationally, 92 percent of buprenorphine patients are white.
  • Only 6 percent of psychologists, 6 percent of advanced practice psychiatric nurses, 13 percent of social workers and 21 percent of psychiatrists come from diverse backgrounds.
  • Discrimination against people who identify as LGBT is associated with high rates of psychiatric and substance use disorders and suicide.
  • Between 2001 and 2014, life expectancy did not change for individuals in the bottom 5% of the income distribution, whereas it increased by about 3 years for men and women in the top 5% of income distribution.

At the National Council, we don’t wring our hands over these facts – we act! Since 2011, we have invested in more than 130 leaders through our Addressing Health Disparities Leadership Program. This program supports mid-level managers to develop their voice, agency and power to advance health equity within their organizations and across their communities.

Our goal is to take good leaders and make them great. Leaders who can manage systems change, build collaborations and resolve conflicts. Leaders who can build knowledge and awareness about health equity and can eliminate disparities among individuals and within organizations. Leaders who can understand privilege and chart their personal and professional growth.

Previous participants have gained that and more. Said one, “I have been able to have difficult conversations with line staff and other leaders within and outside my agency.” Another credited program participation for “being recognized as a leader within my organization who cares deeply about the people we serve and who is passionate about identifying and addressing disparities.”

Disparity is defined as “a great difference,” and we have a great responsibility to address those differences where we find them. That’s why the National Council is pleased to accept applications for the 2018 cohort of the Advancing Health Disparities Leadership Program. Supported financially by the National Council’s committed and generous Board of Directors, we offer the program at no cost for up to 20 participants from member organizations. To learn more, review the Request for Applications.

Nelson Mandela said, “Massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times.” National Council leaders are poised to address health disparities and improve the lives of the people they serve. Won’t you join them?