RWJF Interview with McKinley County PLACE MATTERS Team: Using Cultural Competence to Address Health Disparities

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PLACE MATTERS is a national initiative of the Joint Center, designed to build the capacity of local leaders around the country to identify and improve social, economic, and environmental conditions that shape health. Interviews with six of the PLACE MATTERS teams were featured last week in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s NewPublicHealth blog. Follow along as we post excerpts throughout the week on why #PlaceMatters is key to eliminating health disparities.

Below is an excerpt from the McKinley County, New Mexico PLACE MATTERS team:

In 1979 a dam broke at a uranium processing mill in McKinley County, New Mexico, releasing more than 1,100 tons of uranium mining waste and 100 million gallons of radioactive water—the second largest radioactive materials accident in the United States. Since then, say public health experts, minimal attention has been given to the health risks associated with the environmental contamination from the accident, or of the risks posed by plans for new mining opportunities in the region.

The McKinley County Place Matters team and its partners want to ensure that people are aware of the health risks associated with working in the mines, as well as secondary exposure through such things as a relative’s clothes or pollutants from the mines. The team also wants to address the health and social needs that resulted from the accident decades ago. In addition, people living in the community have noticed increased rates of cancers and other health problems, and state health assessment reports show that between 2008 and 2010, cancer was the leading cause of death in McKinley County.

“To proceed with more mines without knowing the scope of impact to people’s health is dangerous,” said Jordon Johnson, the county’s Place Matters team leader.

….Johnson said that, as a white person working in a predominantly Native American community, it’s important to be an ally, build trust within the community and generally keep himself teachable.

“There is a way to come together with traditional and Western values and practices, and I think that’s what we’re working to figure out…to really heal the community,” he said. And once we begin to deal with the impact of the uranium skill in all the various ways we need to, we’ll be able to pursue other critical health issues as well.”

Click here to read the full interview.

Morgan McLeod is the Program Assistant and New Media Strategist at the Joint Center

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