AAPIP Voices

Webinar Summary: AAPI Innovation and Community Health

Webinar Summary: AAPI Innovation and Community Health 

By: Vivian Gee, Sanem Alkan, Jean Lu, Anjana Sundaram

On June 14th, AAPIP, Cambridge Associates and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, co-hosted a webinar on Asian American Pacific Islander Community health. The panel featured both funder and practitioner perspectives, with insights from Rajni Dronamraju, Senior Director of Charitable Giving at Genentech, Carolyn Wang Kong, Chief Program Director of Blue Shield of California Foundation, and Dr. Thu Quach, President of Asian Health Services. Jean Lu, Chief Investment Officer of Cambridge Associates, moderated the session.

Key Takeaways

AAPI community health is an important area for investment with unprecedented needs emerging in the last two and a half years.

Dr. Quach mentioned that many of the low income and limited-English-proficiency patients she saw in the Asian Health Clinic faced a duality: “Our community was being simultaneously blamed for the virus, and ignored when it came to services – that somehow we weren’t being impacted.” Dr. Quach added that the increase in racially motivated hate crimes against AAPIs only furthered the invisibility and fear of these patients seeking out health services. In a recent survey of 1,300 patients at Asian Health Services, 75% were not leaving their homes to obtain health services due to fear of contracting COVID or being targeted or assaulted while seeking out treatment.

There has been a two-and-a-half fold increase in the need for mental health support services for the AAPI community served by Asian Health Services, with a dearth of culturally and linguistically competent care available. 

Dr. Quach emphasized that behavioral health visits to the clinic pre-pandemic were nearly 120 per week, whereas after the pandemic it was above 300 per week. The data reflects a huge shift in terms of awareness and need, as AAPIs tended to use half the mental health services compared to their white counterparts. Quach added that there is a strong need to address language, social stigma, and other cultural barriers to AAPIs accessing mental health services.  At the same time, the panel advised that it is important to recognize the diversity within the AAPI community, and disaggregate data that would otherwise mask the complex nuances when AAPIs are taken as a single population.

More funders are now balancing responsive grantmaking with addressing root causes to change health systems by looking across racial, gender, and economic lines that impact health outcomes. 

“COVID-19 has shined a spotlight on the massive disparities that exist across racial and ethnic groups when it comes to health outcomes and access to support services,” said Dronamraju. Funders have become increasingly aware of and responsive to how institutional racism also perpetuates these unequal outcomes. Although funders tend to support well-vetted and well-resourced organizations, some are now trying to seek out more local, community-based, grassroots organizations to stimulate greater community engagement, activism, and integration into the public health system. Additionally, some funders are taking a more trust-based approach in grantmaking through general operating support, multi-year funding, and less burdensome reporting requirements.

Some AAPI community funders are looking to support community power-building to change the narrative around communities of color and help build advocacy and civic engagement. 

As Wang Kong mentioned, “we saw language isolation very early on during the pandemic, so we found ethnic media agencies hosting telebriefings with public health experts sharing information to reach communities in a timely manner.”

Panelists mentioned additional funding has been made available to build a narrative ecosystem around the Asian community to develop messages that actually represent the lived experiences of the community. “If we can define the way that issues impact us, we can also define the solutions that we need as well,” said Wang Kong.

Moving forward, funders in California are also exploring how to amplify and scale California’s Asian Pacific Islander Equity Budget, which allocates $156.5 million to support the wellbeing of the AAPI community and address systemic discrimination over 3 years. A portion of that budget was allocated towards ethnic media to support stories and circulate resources for victims of Asian hate.

Telehealth is another area of increased investment and innovation, though language access and digital literacy are critical to closing the digital divide.

Panelists agreed that the recent crisis spurred many innovations and that this time has been an opportunity to invest in infrastructure to ensure the most vulnerable populations are not left behind in the digital divide.

Calls to Action

There were several calls to action at the conclusion of the webinar.

  • Funders were encouraged to invest in the AAPI community, as data shows that AAPIs tend to receive a much smaller fraction of the available philanthropic resources in racial equity programs and portfolios.
  • Our healthcare system and incentive structures aren’t producing the best health outcomes for diverse patient populations. Philanthropy can help invest in those areas that aren’t easily billable but still have a profound impact – especially in mental wellness.
  • The webinar concluded with an open question on how we can respond to the moment and disrupt the narrative on Asian Americans. AAPIs in positions of influence “carry a lot of opportunity in bringing greater visibility to our communities,” shared one panelist.
  • Panelists agreed that speaking up on behalf of our communities is a part of bringing our whole selves to work. “The privilege that we have gained over time has not translated into real power [for the AAPI community] … we cannot let that invisibility continue.”

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