Health Disparities and the Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards

This past month, the United States celebrated Minority Health Month, a month dedicated to creating awareness of health inequities. Health disparities exist when one population or group experiences worse health outcomes or a lesser quality of care when compared to other populations.

As Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

One of the main reasons of this assertion is that health disparities adversely affect neighborhoods, communities and the broader society. It is why the issue of health disparities is both an individual and a public health concern.

In order to reduce health disparities, one of the imperatives is to recognize the importance of using culturally and linguistically appropriate services (CLAS) in health and human services (HHS) settings. The CLAS standards are the umbrella of three fundamental elements needed to create health equity: diversity, inclusion and cultural competence. The utilization of the enhanced CLAS standards has a fundamental role in addressing the disproportion of health status and health outcomes in the U.S.

Since 2000, the U.S. population has become more racially and ethnically diverse. In 2000, the U.S. population was 282 million, and it grew to 309 million in 2010. It is expected to be 430 million in 2050. That means an increase of 52 percent, where 90 percent of the estimated growth is expected to come from people of color.

The application of CLAS standards will help people and service providers create awareness and use culturally sensitive approaches to increase understanding, embrace cultural differences and embark on an environment of cultural competence to reduce health inequities. In addition, the economic cost of health inequities in the U.S. is significant. It is estimated that the combined cost of health complications and subsequent deaths due to inadequate and/or inequitable care is $1.24 trillion (LaVeist, Gaskin and Richard, 2009).

The enhanced CLAS national standards were approved by the U.S. Department of HHS in 2013 as a blueprint to help providers improve the quality of care in serving diverse communities. CLAS standards and cultural competence initiatives are not just the right thing to do, but they are also the smartest thing to accomplish because they are not just moral and ethical imperatives, they are also mandated regulations, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

There are 15 CLAS standards embedded in four categories that include the principal standard (1), Governance, Leadership and Workforce (2 to 4), Communication and Language Assistance (5 to 8) and Engagement, Continuous Improvement and Accountability (9 to 15).

In conclusion, diversity, inclusion and cultural competence, as well as the use of CLAS, which includes health literacy, are fundamental to creating health equity. As we continue struggling with health disparities, I ask people, like you, to be aware of your rights and request a qualified interpreter when you require services. On the other hand, from the service provider’s perspective, they have to make their best efforts to offer cultural competent care to reduce and eliminate health disparities in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Hector Richard Ortiz

You must be logged in to post a comment Login