An interview with Ron Cash, Atlantic City's director of health and human services, on Minority Health Month
It was last Friday afternoon, Sept. 5. We had no idea whether Tropical Storm Hanna was going to kick in the teeth of the shore's oceanfront or merely stick out its tongue. At any rate, it was on this day that I was able to get Ron Cash, Atlantic City's director of health and human services, to discuss an emergency of a more chronic nature: minority health.
The state of New Jersey recognizes September as Minority Health Month with special emphasis on the diseases (some totally preventable, like HIV/AIDS) that are killing non-white residents at rates sometimes double their counterparts. New Jersey has special programs and information aimed at educating minorities about their risk factors, prevention and improving their overall health. Specific information can be found at the Web site www.state.nj.us/health/commiss/omh/.
Even while helping Atlantic City prepare for an impending storm, Cash was intent on speaking with me concerning the health of all local residents, workers and visitors.
How long have you been working with Atlantic City's Health Department?
I have worked with the Health Department here in Atlantic City in some capacity for [more than] 27 years. I have not been the director for all of those years.
How have the issues of health changed in Atlantic City?
The biggest concern then was occupational health. One of the biggest changes we've made to improve health has been creating a smoke-free work environment. In regards to occupational health, our focus today is on preventing food-born illnesses at restaurants and making sure they follow strict health guidelines. Today the more pressing health issues revolve around more environmental health issues than work-related issues. We're looking at cleanliness of the ocean water. We are also still pressed by the presence of HIV and AIDS. Over 500 residents have died from HIV/AIDS over the years.
What is Minority Health Month?
Each year the State of New Jersey recognizes September as Minority Health Month. The state supports this with minority health fairs, screenings and education. Minority Health Month allows us to focus as health professionals on the disparities of health between the white and non-white communities. This year's theme is "A Healthy Community Begins With You" and focuses on how individuals can impact their own health.
Let's talk about that. As a black man, statistics say I am liable to die from everything except old age. Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, violence, cancer -- are the numbers in any of these categories improving?
I can tell you that across the line those numbers are getting worse and you should throw high blood pressure and heart disease into your list as well. What tends to be frustrating is the fact that HIV is preventable [and that] high blood pressure and diabetes can be managed a lot better than it is in the minority community. It's no secret: People need to balance their diet a bit more and eat a little healthier, manage their stress a little better and get a little more sleep. And try to get as much outdoor exercise as possible. Attention to these factors would help the numbers come down. As professionals in the area of health we are always looking at why African-Americans, Latinos and Asians are being diagnosed for these diseases at a higher level than their white counterparts. As individuals and community members, we can take it upon ourselves to do things that will give us better overall health.
What questions do I need to ask when considering a doctor?
You want to establish a relationship with a doctor for prevention and maintaining good health. You don't want to wait until you need treatment. The questions you want to ask are: Are they competent? Are they licensed? Do they understand your fears, concerns and culture? Do they listen?
Raymond Tyler hosts the Alternative Soul Sunday Breakfast Club radio show each Sunday from 7-8am on 96.1FM WTTH - The Touch.