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National Infant Immunization Week | Immunization. Power to Protect.

 woman mother baby

Written by Dr. Jenny Shih and Rena Mei

Vaccines are one of the most successful medical advances of all time. Many of the diseases that vaccines prevent today are nearly or entirely eliminated in the United States. To promote the importance and achievements of vaccines, especially in protecting the health of infants and children, the U.S. declared an annual National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW) every April.

Vaccines are proven to be safe and effective. They are an important step in protecting yourself and the people around you from harmful diseases––ones that are especially serious for infants and young children. This past year, a nationwide measles outbreak reminded the public of how important it is to get the recommended childhood vaccines. Measles has been largely reduced in the United States due to the measles vaccine. However, if even just one person has it, it can spread quickly to those who are not vaccinated against it. By following the recommended immunization schedule, parents can help protect their children from many serious and life threatening illnesses.

Hepatitis B is a very common disease among Asian Americans, and so this recommended vaccine is particularly important for our community. The hepatitis B vaccine requires three doses. The first dose is recommended at birth to prevent mother-to-infant transmission or transmission from others living with hepatitis B in the home. Left untreated, nearly 1 in 4 people living with hepatitis B develop serious liver problems, even liver cancer. Most don’t know they are infected, since people can live with hepatitis B for decades without having any symptoms or feeling sick. All mothers, whether or not they have hepatitis B, should have their babies vaccinated against this harmful disease. Read more about protecting your baby from hepatitis B here.

Immunizations are a shared public responsibility. Families, healthcare providers, and public health officials need to work together to prevent these harmful diseases and eliminate them from our communities. Parents play an important role by working with pediatricians to keep their children up-to-date on their immunizations. The CDC has great resources for parents to stay on track with recommended immunizations. You can view the 2015 recommended vaccinations here, and keep track of immunizations and milestones with this sheet.

By taking preventive measures, we can protect not only our children, but the entire community from infectious diseases.

Dr. Jenny Shih is a pediatrician at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. She received her medical degree and residency training from the New York University School of Medicine. Dr. Shih is board-certified in pediatrics. Rena Mei is a health educator at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. She has a bachelor’s degree in Human Evolutionary Biology and Chemistry from Harvard University.


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National Minority Health Month | Celebrating 30 Years of the Heckler Report

National Minority Health Month

Written by Regina F. Lee, J.D.

In 1985, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the Secretary Task Force Report on Black and Minority Health (Heckler Report). The report documented the pervasive gaps in health experienced by racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. The report described these gaps as “an affront both to our ideals and to the ongoing genius of American medicine.”

Since the release of the Heckler Report 30 years ago, the nation has made slow but steady progress in closing the gaps in access to care and quality of care experienced by racial and ethnic minorities. At the federal and state levels, offices of minority health were created to develop policies and programs to improve the health of racial and ethnic populations. Minority health research focusing on differences in health status, risk factors for disease and injury, access to and use of health care services, and quality of care began to gain momentum. Terms such as health disparities, health inequality and health equity became part of the public health lexicon. In 2000, “eliminating health disparities” was adopted as one of the overarching goals of Healthy People, the nation’s public health agenda.

Today, life expectancy gaps between blacks and whites have narrowed. Cancer disparities are improving for all minority groups. Teen birth rates have dropped for all groups. Childhood immunization disparities are also closing. Real gains in improving Asian American health and reducing disparities in access to care have also been achieved. For example, health status data for Asian Americans is now available for 188 (37%) Healthy People 2010 population-based objectives. About two-thirds of these 188 objectives have been met or were moving toward their targets.

However, much work remains to be done. Awareness of health disparities is still low among the general public. The list of diseases and health related concerns that have significant disparities is long. Thirty years of research and action have highlighted the powerful link between social factors and health. The underlying factors that affect disparities – now described as the social determinants of health – are complex and overlapping. Where people live and work, jobs, education, discrimination, and the health system’s responses are stronger influences on health and health outcomes than access to care or the process of care. Locally and nationally, Asian Americans continue to experience disparities in areas such as tuberculosis, hepatitis B, HIV testing, and cancer screening.

In 2011, HHS launched the National Partnership for Action (NPA) to End Health Disparities and the National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity. The NPA seeks to increase awareness of health disparities, strengthen leadership for action, improve health and health care outcomes for underserved populations, ensure the linguistic and cultural competency and diversity of the healthcare workforce, and enhance data availability and utilization. Using a “bottom up” approach, ten Regional Health Equity Councils (RHEC) with representation from business, health, education, housing, academia, foundations, and other sectors have been formed to develop collaborative strategies that advance the NPA goals.

The Health Center has long recognized the need to work in partnerships within and beyond the health sector to address service, policy and systems level changes. We currently participate in many partnerships, such as the Region II RHEC, NYC Hepatitis B Coalition, and NYU Langone Medical Center Community Service Plan. We have learned that a high degree of community ownership and participation is essential for sustained success in population level health outcomes.

Regina F. Lee is the chief development officer at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. She received her JD from the New York University Law School. She has been involved with the Health Center since its founding in 1971. She is also a member of the Regional Health Equity Council, Region II.


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Raising Children with Special Needs: Our Stories | Part II

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Written by Dr. Sherry Huang, MD, FAAP

This month, we are sharing stories written by our patients who have children with special needs. These stories were inspired by an essay entitled Welcome to Holland, written by Emily Perl Kingsley about her experience raising a child with special needs.

The Special Needs Team in the pediatric department has learned so much about the joys and struggles of wonderful and committed parents. Here is part two of Our Stories:

 


 

My daughter makes me feel that I am a lucky person.

I have a 16 year old daughter. She has epilepsy and delays in neurodevelopment. Many Chinese parents do not know what ‘special needs’ means, and I was one of them.

When my daughter was six months old, I noticed that she never moved her eyes, they just stayed to one side. Besides that, she seemed fine. At the time, I did not bring her to see the doctor for just that reason. Then, when she was ten months old, her whole body began shaking. This is how I started my special life journey.

She started to have delays in walking and speech, needed to be hospitalized and to see the doctor regularly for MRI’s and many EEGs. She also needed speech therapy and occupational therapy. I did not know anything about these treatments, and definitely not in English. She stayed at a specialized school and I was not sure if that was good for her. I did attend all the parent-teacher conferences and meetings. It was not until she was in 5th grade that I started to understand the special needs system.

In the past 16 years, I didn’t know how many tears that I had, and I was extremely tired. My family’s support and understanding was crucial, otherwise it would have been too much to bear. Over time, I began to understand her needs, and she has brought me happiness. Because of her, I learned that every special needs child is different. She allows me to learn the many things that I would not have otherwise known. Through my daughter, I met new parents. I learned the roles of a special need parents and their rights.

Currently she is enrolled in a private school, a very good school. My daughter makes me feel that I am a lucky person. Because of her, I learned about the special needs group at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. Because of her, I realized that I am never alone—I have assistance and support.


 

At that moment I held her tight.

I can often relate to the Chinese proverb, “Raising a child is for life”, especially because I am a mother of two autistic children. What we had gone through is beyond what words can describe. But today, I want to share with you that even though it was difficult, there were also heartfelt moments.

My daughter rarely shows her emotions. There was an incident two years ago that significantly changed how I see her. That day, I was sitting on the sofa in the living room and she was sitting across from me playing with her toys. I was peeling an apple and happened to cut my finger. I reacted with a slight, “Agh!” I could not believe what happened next—she stopped playing with her toys, came over and blew on my finger. She then pushed away my bangs, gave me a kiss on the forehead and smiled. I was very emotional at that moment and I held her tight.

For some parents, such a small gesture may not cause a rush of emotions. Her actions were enough to move me. After that day, I decided to use all my love and energy to reach out to her. I believe one day she may allow me into her world.

 

Dr. Sherry Huang is pediatrician and member of the Pediatric Special Needs Team at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. She received her medical degree and residency training from the New York University of Medicine. Dr. Huang is board-certified in pediatrics.


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Raising Children with Special Needs: Our Stories | Part I

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Written by Dr. Sherry Huang, MD, FAAP

When I joined the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, I was fresh out of residency training. I loved the work that I was doing and loved giving back to the community where I grew up. I learned a lot from my wonderful colleagues in the pediatric department. However, as I started seeing more patients, I found myself lacking knowledge and resources to provide better care to families with children with special needs. These families have children with conditions such as autism, developmental delay, epilepsy, or down syndrome, and they all need extra special care and support.

As our health center was becoming certified as a Level 3 Patient Centered Medical Home, we took this opportunity to create a Special Needs Team in our department to improve the care that we provide for these families. Fast forward 4 years, 19 monthly Parent Advisory Groups meetings, many staff trainings and parent workshops, and 9 parent support groups later, and I feel proud that we, along with our parents, have created a system that seeks to care for our patients in a way that is holistic and compassionate. By coordinating care and working closely with specialists, social workers, therapists, educators and community providers, we try to provide the best care for those families who strive every day to help their children reach their best potential.

Parents of children with special needs have incredibly inspiring stories to tell. Recently, we shared with our Parent Advisory Group an essay entitled Welcome to Holland, written by Emily Perl Kingsley about her experience raising a child with special needs.

Inspired by this essay, our parents have written their own, in Chinese, about their experiences. Our team has learned so much about the joys and struggles of these wonderful and committed parents.

We will be sharing some of these stories with you this month to celebrate National Autism Awareness Month. Here is part one of Our Stories:


When my daughter is absolutely happy, the feeling is like taking a vacation in Hawaii

Thank you to the Health Center for providing and sharing the article “Welcome to Holland”. After reading the article, I was touched. It reminds me of my own situation, which is caring for a special child at all times. It also enlightened me on ways I can care for my child.

I struggle every morning to get my daughter to brush her teeth and wash her face. It’s a simple task, yet it stresses me incredibly. To keep the problem from getting worse, I continue to look for a right method to teach her. That takes patience, persistence, and practice, but hopefully it will get better one step at a time.

Sometimes she throws a tantrum for no reason. During times like this, it’s like the aftermath of a battle where things are in disorder and the future is uncertain. At times like this, we try to avoid escalating the problem and to minimize the damage. After things calm down, I think back to how the problem began, what I did well, what I didn’t do well, and how I can do better next time.

When my daughter is absolutely happy, she often laughs and hugs us. The feeling is like taking a vacation in Hawaii—where one is relaxed, joyful and stress-free.

These kinds of situations, where my daughter’s emotions fluctuate, happen for a reason. This is because she is a special needs child. I need to have an infinite amount of patience, love, energy and time to cope with the situation. It’s also important for me to continue to learn how I can better care for her. The more that I know, the better parent I can be to support her. That way, I can be on vacation more often.


When they grow up, they will understand that we care about them

We have two children, a 20 year old son and a 16 year old daughter. My daughter has autism and developmental delays. She has changed my life. Sometimes, my emotions fluctuate with my child’s temper. I can only look forward to the future, hoping that tomorrow will be better as I continue to seek more services to assist my daughter.

Sometimes my friends ask, “You’re spending so much time with your daughter, do you feel that your son is neglected?” We do consider his feelings and explain to him why we need to spend a lot of time taking care of her. We use dinnertime to chat and talk about school, friends and the news. Sometimes we argue, especially during those years when they were more rebellious. But when they grow up, they will understand that we care about them. That way, when they are happy or sad, we hope they will share their feelings with us. We encourage them to have their own interests and make more friends. These discussions also allow me to know my children’s personalities, their values and how they interact with others.

Dr. Sherry Huang is pediatrician and member of the Pediatric Special Needs Team at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. She received her medical degree and residency training from the New York University School of Medicine. Dr. Huang is board-certified in pediatrics.