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Mashantucket hosts regional minority health conference

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - Preparations are under way for this year's New England Regional Minority Health Conference, which will take place at Foxwoods Conference Center at Mashantucket April 2 - 4.

The overarching conference theme is ''Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities by 2010.''

''Despite tremendous advances in health care fostered by science, technology, research, education and communication systems, unequivocal disparities exist among racial, ethnic and other minority populations. These disparities go beyond access issues and exist even when income and insurance are considered. Hence, the New England Regional Minority Health Conference Planning Committee chose the title 'Moral and Economic Imperatives' as a call to action,'' co-chairs Marie Spivey and Nancy Berger said in a release. Spivey is a registered nurse and the administrator of Allied Health/Nursing Initiatives and Programs Capital Workforce Partners Inc., and Berger is director of the Office of Multicultural Health in Connecticut's Department of Public Health.

The New England Minority Health Conference is held every two years and rotates around the six New England states. This year, the conference is co-sponsored by Connecticut's Department of Public Health and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.

The committee that plans and oversees the conference is comprised of health professionals, researchers, representatives from state health departments and tribal governments, educators and others. The core group welcomes dozens of new members from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont to plan each biennial conference.

The regional effort is unique. Although the federal health department and individual states have departments or offices concerned with minority health issues, the New England collaborative is the only regional initiative.

President Clinton began an initiative called ''Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities by 2010'' in 1999, Michelle Surdoval, the conference manager, said. ''It's actually technically not a federal issue anymore, but this committee wanted to keep it going in New England because we have a commitment to that language and focus, so as we're coming up to 2010, we're looking at what we've done, what the best practices are and what still needs to happen. This is a group of people who are not going away. ...

''The Mohegan and Penobscot tribes, as well as representatives from other New England tribes, have been involved on an ongoing basis. We've made a real effort over time to keep the American Indian voice at the table to try to recognize what disparities are going on in that community,'' said Surdoval.

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The three-day conference is packed with keynote speakers, workshops, lectures, and other events.

The first day will include a full-day special training workshop called ''Communicating Health Across Cultures.'' The workshop aims to promote ''best practices of culturally competent care and services in health care and public health.'' The workshop facilitator is Ira SenGupta, executive director of the Cross Cultural Health Care Program in Seattle.

Several shorter workshops will provide training in cultural competence and communication.

A session called ''Implementation of Targeted Grassroots Advocacy in Diverse Communities'' will include state legislators, representatives of nonprofit health organizations and staff from the American Cancer Society to discuss the extent to which minority communities are adversely affected by cancer and other diseases, and ways to ensure that minority populations are represented in the legislative process.

Rick Hunt, from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, will lead a workshop called WAOLOZI, a new health and wellness program for American Indians. Hunt will explain the program's four circles - a youth group, an Elders Circle, Red Road Recovery and Stewardship of the Land - and talk about how the program

was developed.

A group of presenters, including Markos Samos, Mashantucket Pequot, will discuss ''You've Got the Power,'' a Connecticut cancer program that established partnerships across the state to mobilize ethnic and racial minority communities in an effort to find culturally specific ways to reduce disparities specific to cancer prevention and control.

Registration forms are available online at www.nermhc.com. More information is available by contacting Surdoval at (207) 839-6381 or michellesurdoval@yahoo.com.