Students from CUNY School of Medicine meet with HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. (Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
Students from CUNY School of Medicine meet with HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. (Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

Physicians and government officials alike talked about equity, inclusion and African American health priorities as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hosted its first Black Health Summit in Washington, D.C.  Featuring panel discussions, the summit shared national leaders and health care provider’s observations on how to build towards a better tomorrow for underserved citizens.

While honoring the season of African American History, the summit discussed conversations concerning health and health outcomes most prevalent in Black communities, including safety concerns, access to health care and mental health resources,  and maternal health.  

“It is easier to build strong children than it is to build broken men.   A health care system that lets people fall through the cracks is not really a health care system, but an ill-care system,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in his opening remarks. Becerra also highlighted communities of color increasing vaccination rates  and more enrollment in the Affordable Care Act.

The summit opened with a panel addressing mental health in Black communities, featuring Keisha Lance Bottoms, senior advisor to the president for public engagement, and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  The two discussed the increase in adult and youth suicide rates, as the pandemic created a breeding ground of lethal stress for a bounteous population of people.  

HHS is working to tackle suicide rates and ensure the country’s cultural competency in responding to  various people and backgrounds when having mental health crises.

Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Illinois) discussed Black maternal health. Underwood, who has authored maternal health legislation and Brooks-LaSure, discussed factors and efforts needed to reduce Black maternal mortality rates across the nation.

The health professionals and speakers also stressed the importance of normalizing conversations about mental and maternal health, so it becomes a more palpable topic to discuss across a lifespan.  They also emphasized knowing when to attend to oneself in order to maintain peace and balance mental health.

“The power of the pause is such an important part of health care. Often for me, I know when it is time to go hiking, or kayaking to recharge for a bit,” Dephin-Rittmon said.

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