laboratory in many ways, working to achieve goals that few other organizations are attempting and seeks innovative methods for changing deep-rooted beliefs and institutional procedures that can affect health disparities.

A recent project focused on developing a Cultural Competency Training Program and educating trainers to administer the program in hospitals throughout New Jersey. After the program was initiated, the American Conference on Diversity developed an interest in extending awareness of health disparities to businesses that are headquartered in New Jersey. For most businesses, service provision, shareholder value, and operations are the primary focus. While benefits are provided equally to all employees, little attention has been paid to addressing issues related to the health disparities among them and the impact that these health disparities have on the company’s performance. The American Conference on Diversity believes, however, that businesses should be aware that when their employees experience problems brought about by the health disparities they experience, these problems—such as increased sick time, absenteeism, and family leave costs—impact the bottom line.

Businesses must realize that there are real bottom line costs associated with health disparities, Schwartz commented. According to the Integrated Business Benefits Institute, the full cost of employee absences is more than four times the total medical payment; absence-related costs alone amount to 76 percent of net income when considering lost productivity from absence and wage replacement benefits. According to Schwartz, that is the awareness message that businesses need to take away from this information. In New Jersey, about a third of employees are members of racial and ethnic minorities, and those employees and their families are affected by health disparities regardless of their income or where they live. By reducing health disparities, businesses have a tremendous opportunity to positively impact their employees’ health and quality of life, as well as the companies’ bottom line.

What steps can the business community take to reduce disparities among their employees? Determining a means for reaching these goals is extremely challenging. Privacy issues severely limit how data can be gathered, and even such issues as determining which racial or ethnic group employees belong to are big stumbling blocks. Businesses would have to develop a method for tracking disease, before they could begin to determine the most effective ways to impact the health of their employees and their families. For more than a year, the American Conference on Diversity has been evaluating these issues and developing strategies for tackling some of these problems. Although we do not yet have all the solutions, Schwartz observed, we are closer to finding some answers and to developing processes for reducing health disparities in business settings.

To help address some of the challenges of reducing health disparities through business initiatives, the American Conference on Diversity



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