Menendez Celebrates Minority Health Month, Hosts Roundtable to Discuss Health Challenges that Affect Minority Women

Menendez Celebrates Minority Health Month, Hosts Roundtable to Discuss Health Challenges that Affect Minority Women


NEWARK, N.J.  – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that sets national health policy, today hosted a roundtable focused on the health challenges that uniquely impact minority women in recognition of Minority Heath Month. Health leaders from across the state gathered to discuss issues such as preventative care, mental health and maternal care.

“All Americans, regardless of race, gender or wealth, deserve quality, affordable health care and throughout my time in Congress I have been on the frontlines fighting to ensure we reach that reality,” Sen. Menendez said. “The health needs of women – and women of color in particular – cannot go overlooked. While the Trump Administration continues to attack women’s health and minority groups, I will continue to stand with women here in New Jersey and across the country to make sure they get the services, treatment and care that every American is entitled to.”



Although great advancements have been made in the health care field and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has increased the number of insured Americans, minority groups still face certain barriers in accessing medical care.

In terms of mental health, African American adults are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than white adults. The lack of African American mental health practitioners coupled with an overall lack of culturally sensitive care services, many African Americans struggle to access the mental health care they need.

There is also a major disparity in maternal mortality rates between African American women and white women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African American mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers. The disproportionate toll on African Americans is the main reason the U.S. maternal mortality rate is so much higher than that of other affluent countries. According to World Health Organization estimates, African American expectant and new mothers in the U.S. die at about the same rate as women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan.

According to the CDC, 7.6 percent of African American women have heart disease. This is compared to 5.8 percent of white women and 5.6 percent of Mexican-American women. African American women are also 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than white women. The majority of heart health information is based on research of white men but women often times present different symptoms. The lack of clinical diagnosis based on these differences means signs are often missed and overlooked. 

After the ACA became law, New Jersey expanded Medicaid which allowed more people to obtain health insurance. Medicaid expansion has been critically important to the state and expanding access to primary care. Despite these gains in insurance coverage, many patients in the minority community struggle to access medical care. Additional barriers include language issues, transportation, difficulty in taking time off work, and inability to afford medications and copays. 



Roundtable participants reflected New Jersey’s diversity:

  • RWJBarnabas
    Michellene Davis, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Officer
  • RWJBarnabas
    Dr. Ernani Sadural, Director of Global Health/Chief Medical Officer
  • Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield
    Sarah Jones, Director of Government Affairs
  • Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield
    Dr. Kelly Bethea, Medical Director
  • Purple Reign Social Services
    Asia Smith, Executive Director and Founder
  • Rutgers University
    Dr. Denise Rodgers, Vice Chancellor for Interprofessional Programs and Urban Health and Wellness Institute
  • GrassROOTS Community Foundation
    Dr. Janice Johnson Dias
  • Newark Community Health Centers, Inc.
    Dr. Pamela Clarke, Chief Executive Officer
  • Newark Community Health Centers Inc.
    Dr. Adrianne Headley, Chief Medical Officer
  • New Jersey Primary Care Association
    Jillian Hudspeth, President/CEO
  • University Hospital
    Thaddeus Diggs, Manager of Government Relations
  • University Hospital
    Michelle Hepburn, RN FNP
  • Adult Behavioral Health Services
    Beatriz Cruz, LCSW, LCADC, Director
  • Sanitas Medical Center
    Dr. Puneet Babbar, Medical Director

“Minority Health Month gives us an opportunity to really put a fine point – a laser focus – on what it is that we need to do differently, and perhaps more poignantly in order to address those issues,” Michellene Davis, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Officer at RWJBarnabas said. “To create a more equitable future for everyone, because everyone deserves to grow up healthy and strong in the State of New Jersey.”

“One of the most important things for us to remember during Minority Health Month is that not only do we have to look at what happens in the health care system but we have to look at what happens in the rest of people’s lives,” said Dr. Denise Rodgers, Vice Chancellor for Interprofessional Programs and Urban Health and Wellness Institute at Rutgers University. “What’s their housing like? What’s their access to jobs like? What is their access to food like? Because if we don’t look at those things, we will never achieve our goals in equity in health outcomes.”

When Republicans attempted to repeal and replace the ACA last year, Sen. Menendez traveled across the state to discuss health care with constituents and health care leaders. 

Last year Sen. Menendez visited a women’s health center to highlight the disproportionate impact the Republicans healthcare plan would have on women and essential women’s health benefits. He also met with African-American clergy on how to protect the gains their community has seen under the Affordable Care Act.

He also convened a roundtable discussion with leaders of some of New Jersey’s leading health centers to discuss and address their concerns regarding the Health Center Funding Cliff. Sen. Menendez authored an amendment to the ACA that provided Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) $11 billion in mandatory funding over five years for new and existing programs and activities to expand access to primary care services. In a recently passed bipartisan budget deal, Sen. Menendez secured $600 million over two years to fund FQHCs. Minority and lower-income communities rely heavily on FQHC’s for their healthcare needs.

When funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) lapsed last September, Sen. Menendez co-introduced the bipartisan KIDS Act to fund CHIP through 2022 and preserve the express lane option for enrollment, the childhood obesity research demonstration, and the pediatric quality measures. Funding for CHIP was recently extended for another ten years. In New Jersey, more than 230,000 children from low-income and working families rely on CHIP’s support for NJ FamilyCare.

Minority Health Month was first observed in 2002. The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) uses the month of April to raise awareness about health disparities that continue to affect racial and ethnic minority populations. The theme for 2018 is ‘Partnering for Health Equity’ which highlights partnerships at the federal, state, and local levels that help reduce disparities in health and health care.