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Gift of Life for the Asian American Community

Written by Isaac Song

Earlier this month, we recognized National Minority Donor Awareness Week. As of August 2015, there are over 10,000 people on the organ transplant wait-list in New York State. While minorities make up 64% of the individuals on the waitlist, only 39% of organ donors last year were minorities. Although organs are often matched irrespective of ethnicity, transplant matching is more likely to occur from donors of the same ethnic background. So, it’s important for efforts to be made to improve public awareness to increase the number of minority organ donors.

One organization doing just this is LiveOnNY. On August 7th, they hosted their first Asian Community Open House to highlight the importance of minority organ donation awareness, especially within the Asian-American community. Staff members explained their roles in the donation process, and donation recipients gave testimonies of how their lives were affected through receiving the gift of life. I talked to Yie Foong, the Family Services Outreach Coordinator at LiveOnNY. She spoke of the role that LiveOnNY has in promoting organ donation in minority communities.

DN: What is the mission of LiveOnNY?

YF: LiveOnNY is our organization’s name. It captures the role of the donor and how they are living on through giving the gift of life, and it also shows how the donation recipient is living on as well. It is incredible because the donor family, by choosing to donate, is preventing another family from going through the same acute grief that they are going through. That’s a beautiful thing and encapsulates what LiveOnNY is all about.

Long Live NY is our campaign slogan. Currently, there are more than 10,000 people on the waitlist in NY, which means that a person dies every 15 hours on the waitlist. We want to increase the donation rate to make sure that no New Yorker dies as a result of waiting too long on the waitlist.

DN: What are some recent efforts or campaigns being done to raise the donation rate?

YF: Our best advocates are our donor families. We have donor recipients who volunteer their time at the DMV to talk about their experiences with organ donation. Since the DMV is not the ideal place to think about organ donation, we have recipients there who can spark that type of conversation.

We were at Charles B. Wang Community Health Center’s Good Health Day in Chinatown, which was very successful for us as we had six people sign up for the registry. So constantly being a presence in the community, giving out flyers, and planting that seed of knowledge are the basis of most of our efforts.

DN: What is the importance of making sure minorities are more aware of organ donation?

YF: For some minorities, especially in the Asian community, they’ve created this mythos surrounding death – they believe that if they talk about death, then death will happen. The Asian community places a lot of importance on the concept of body integrity. For example, surgery is not looked upon favorably by some in the Asian community because it goes against the idea of body integrity. So it’s very challenging to accept organ donation with respect to body integrity.

Also, the conversation about end-of-life decision making is lacking in the Asian community. Not just organ donation but also DNRs (do not resuscitate) and so forth. Since these issues are not talked about, families aren’t sure what the deceased person’s attitudes towards organ donation may be.

DN: What efforts are being made in the minority community to improve the donation rate?

YF: As I said before, our best advocates are our donor families. In 2013 and 2014, we had 22 Asian families who donated and so we’re beginning to build a coalition of Asian donor families. The idea is that while I may know how the Chinese community views organ donation, I have no idea what’s going on in the Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese communities. There are so many intricacies and challenges facing each culture, so we hope that his coalition will help to address some of those issues.

DN: Can you address some of the misconceptions regarding organ donation such as doctors withholding treatment if they find out you’re an organ donor?

YF: First of all, doctors do not know whether you are an organ donor or not. Along with EMS, the doctors are doing everything they can to save your life – it’s not even a consideration as to whether you are on the registry or not. Even when a family is in the ICU, the doctor still doesn’t know whether you are on the registry or not, which has no bearing on the doctor’s decisions.

Also, you want the transplant coordinators to be there because our presence ensures that the doctor is doing everything to make sure you have the best chance at survival, because if they aren’t doing that, then that means the organs probably won’t be viable for donation anyway.

There is so much that medicine cannot do unfortunately, but we know that organ donation and transplantation works. We know that the anti-rejection medications we give recipients work and that transplants are not only successful but that people are thriving and can live full, healthy lives. We know that the medicine can make it happen, so the challenge is getting people to make the decision to donate.

Written by Isaac Song. Isaac is currently the communications intern at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. He graduated from Rutgers University with a BA in Molecular Biology & Biochemistry.


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Good Health Day Fairs for Asian American Communities in NYC

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On August 1, 2015 and August 5, 2015, the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center hosted its annual Good Health Day (GHD) health fairs in Flushing, Queens and Chinatown, Manhattan. Attracting more than 3,500 participants each year, GHD is the Health Center’s biggest outreach event that aims to raise awareness of good health in the Asian American community.

This year, there were more than 40 booths staffed with 200 volunteers including physicians, dentists, nurses, and educators who provided free health screenings and health education for everyone.

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Local residents were able to screen for diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol, and learn how to take care of their health by playing interactive games such as bean bag toss, spin-the-wheel and mini soccer. GHD also featured over 50 health and local organizations who shared valuable health and social resources regarding health insurance enrollment, voter’s registration and more.

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We are also honored to have elected officials Congresswomen Grace Meng, Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Assemblyman Ron Kim, Councilman Peter Koo, and Tommy Lin representing Mayor Bill de Blasio for stopping by Good Health Day in Flushing, and Senator Daniel Squadron and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez for visiting us on Good Health Day in Chinatown.

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Children, parents, adults and seniors also enjoyed various cultural and musical performances during the event.

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In Flushing, Queens, Flushing YMCA and Nan Shan Senior Citizen Center took part in wonderful performances. In Chinatown, Manhattan, the Mott Street Senior Center, the Transfiguration School, the Bangladesh Institute of Performing Arts, and Jessie Chen, a popular YouTube singer and previous contestant on The Voice, moved the audience with their dance and songs. There were also an exciting Hapkido demonstration led by the World Martial Arts, and a Zumba group session led by Chinatown YMCA.

An annual tradition for over 30 years, Good Health Day fulfills the Health Center’s larger mission of promoting and improving the health status of community members. It is also a collaborative day where the Health Center and local organizations work together to empower the community to lead healthy lifestyles. Thank you to all of the participants and sponsors for being a part of Good Health Day and for making it successful!

Photo Credits: Michelle Sawh, Raubern Totanes, Mesbah Uddin, Justine Wright and Y-Lan Nguyen.


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Celebrating 50 Years of Community Health Centers

70's healthfair Written by Y-Lan Nguyen

This year marks 50 years of the Community Health Center movement. It began as part of the nation’s “War on Poverty” program, with the goal of helping those in poverty by using local resources and federal funds. Today, Community Health Centers serve the primary healthcare needs of 23 million patients in over 9,000 locations across the country. To commemorate this momentous moment in healthcare history, we spoke to Regina Lee, the Chief Development Officer at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. She shares her thoughts on the impact community health centers have had on patient care in the Asian American Community.

DN: How did you come to work at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center?

RL: I have been involved with the Health Center for more than twenty years. The first time was when the Health Center was just starting in 1971 until 1977. I came back to work here in 2001. I was also on the board of the South Cove Community Health Center in Boston for many years, including several terms as the board president.

Early founders of the Chinatown Health Clinic. Regina Lee is pictured in the second row.

Early founders of the Chinatown Health Clinic, now the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. Regina Lee is pictured in the top row, third from the right.

DN: How was the Health Center started?

RL: In the early 70’s, Chinatown was very small, maybe seven or eight blocks. There were a handful of doctors with part-time office hours in the community. Accessing healthcare services was very difficult for community members who could not speak English. So a group of people organized the Chinatown Health Fair in 1971. At that time, I was a college student and I had some free time, so I decided to volunteer. The health fair took place for 10 days, with the theme “Bring the Exam Room to the Community.” We set up booths on Mott Street and provided a variety of health screenings. I volunteered as a translator in the mobile van that did mammography.

The health fair was very successful, about 2,500 people participated. For those with positive screenings results, we referred them to Bellevue hospital for evaluation. Since Bellevue Hospital did not have bilingual staff at the time, we were concerned that most of the people would not follow up. A few of us volunteered as patient escorts. We took them from Chinatown to Bellevue Hospital and went through the entire healthcare process with them as a translator. The experience really taught me about the very real barriers that people in the community face, not speaking any English, not understanding how healthcare works, and not knowing your way around a big hospital. Later, we organized a free clinic with volunteer doctors and nurse and started offering services in the fall of 1971. My beautiful picture My beautiful picture

DL: How are Community Health Centers different from hospitals or private practice in the community?

RL: The Health Center today is right in the community, and we are very accessible in both language and culture. Finances are also not a barrier because we serve everyone who needs care, including those without health insurance. I often read letters from patients. Patients tell us that our doctors and staff understand them, and treat them like family. We see multiple generations in families – babies, parents, grandparents – coming to us for their care. We have many support services, such as health education, mental health, nutrition counseling, care management and social work, which community physicians in private practice cannot provide. Since our doctors are supported by many other professionals, they are able to provide patients with the care that they need to maintain their health or manage their conditions effectively. We are a recognized leader locally and nationally for our quality of care. We are also different from other healthcare providers because we are governed by a consumer majority board of directors. More than 50% of our board members are the Health Center patients, and they make sure that we do right by the community. Many Health Center employees come from the same backgrounds as our patients so we can communicate with patients directly and know how to work with them. We also use data and community needs assessments to inform our decision-making. I believe the Health Center is successful because we are committed to the mission, understand community needs, and are motivated to do our best each and other day to deliver the best care to all patients.

DN: What is the mission of the Health Center?

RL: Simply put, we want to ensure 100% access and eliminate health disparities. Eliminating health disparities is not simply about providing clinical care. It’s also about improving the overall health of the community by encouraging healthier lifestyles, increasing physical activity and better nutrition, avoidance of behavioral risk, and more use of preventive care. Community health is a product of many factors, such as education, jobs, and the social and physical environment – what is now referred to as the social determinants of health. For example, it’s hard for us help our patients to stop smoking without changing the pervasive smoking culture in the community. We work with many partners to improve the overall health of the community.

To learn more about the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center’s mission and history, watch this short video.

Written by Y-Lan Nguyen. Y-Lan Nguyen is currently the Good Health Day coordinator at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. She graduated from the Macaulay Honors College (CUNY) with a BS in biology.