Jewel Mullen, a senior official at U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told a group of Black and Latino publishers that minority-owned newspapers remain necessary to tell stories about their respective communities.

“I think the question that all of us, the Hispanic publishers and Black publishers, have ‘is HHS interested in investing in our communities?’” said Larry D. Smith, co-founder of DBS Communications of Florence, South Carolina.

“I want you to take my presence here as a ‘yes.’ I want you to take the longer answer as a ‘to be continued,’” said Mullen, who began her role this year as the principal deputy assistant secretary for health at HHS.

Mullen gave remarks Friday at the National Press Club in northwest D.C. about health disparities and the role minority publications can have to inform the community.

The luncheon ended a three-day joint conference with the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s “Black Press Week” and the National Association of Hispanic Publications’ “Legislative Summit.” The theme of the joint venture – Publishing Industry: Equity, Sustainability and Service.

“We want a relationship with all of the federal departments and all of the federal agencies … to get some of our own in the government,” said Benjamin Chavis Jr., NNPA president and CEO. “We would be in a better position to make sure the government is truly representative, truly responsive, truly accountable and truly resourceful to our businesses and to our community.”

Mullen, a primary care physician, said Black newspapers such as the New York Amsterdam News that she read growing up in New Rochelle, New York, tell different stories about the community versus mainstream media.

“If we want our communities to continue to grow and thrive to produce the kind of art and scholarship … to inspire our communities, we have to continue this,” she said. “If we want children 75 years from now to open the Amsterdam News and other papers, we need you now more than ever before.”

She gave a few examples on health care challenges in the Black and Latino communities.

For instance, she said they make up a small percentage of health care workers which can deter people from going to see a doctor. Minority patients would miss fewer appointments if employees resembled the community, she said.

She also mentioned how the cost of health inequalities and premature deaths nationwide are $1.2 trillion a year. The amount comes from a 2009 study entitled, “The Economic Burdens of Health Inequalities in the United States,” commissioned by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and carried out by Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland.

Before Mullen joined the Obama administration, she served as the commissioner for the Connecticut Health Department for nearly five years. According to the department’s website, Mullen led efforts to reduce racial disparities in low birth weight and infant mortality and responded to the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that became a national discussion on gun violence.

“I know as doctors, we’re really good at talking about health care. While we’re getting better at talking about the social [aspects] of health, we’re not the best at it,” she said. “That’s why we look to you to be the translators. You’re the ones who can best tell the stories of how social factors impact health in your communities.”

Mullen conducted a brief question and answer session before she left.

Mollie F. Belt, publisher for the Dallas Examiner in Dallas, Texas, said the state’s Health Department allocated $60 million last year towards community outreach and health programs. Belt said Black newspapers received only $12,000 toward advertising.

“We want all Texans to be healthy,” she said. “[Texas Health Department doesn’t] look at Black newspapers as a source to get the word out to educate our people about health issues.”

Mullen said she would look into the Texas situation.

“I don’t know the answer, but I can find out,” she said.

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