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Healthcare Reform: It Starts with Me…Right?

March 5, 2010

Author: Terri Lee Freeman

While on vacation I went to the doctor and got results back from some lab work. To my chagrin, the doctor boldly stated that my LDL (lousy) cholesterol level was four points shy of the level they typically recommend medication for. The offset, in his opinion, was that my HDL (happy) cholesterol levels were higher than normal. “However,” he said, “we need to keep an eye on those numbers.” As my mind raced, thinking of the potential for being on some medication for potentially the rest of my life, I was thankful that I had insurance coverage that would provide some buffer from the cost of monthly prescription medication. Then I thought about the 40 million or so Americans who don’t have that “safety net.”

I began to think about why my LDL cholesterol might be high. Well, maybe it was the frozen custard that was becoming a daily summer treat, or possibly those wonderful barbecued ribs we enjoyed when we went to the mountains of Virginia, or maybe it was those great home-cooked breakfasts during the family reunion! So off to the store I ran to counter all that “stuff” in my blood stream. A bevy of fresh vegetables, fruits and lean protein filled up my cart. And, once again, my mind raced to those folks who would like to prevent illness as much as possible, but can’t because of lack of access – lack of access to preventive care and lack of access to wholesome, quality foods, but an overabundance to quick, processed, and cheap foods. The First Lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative calls these “food deserts.”

You see, I believe each of us has a responsibility for our healthcare. We have to do all the things we constantly hear are good for us – eat right, exercise, eliminate stress and get a good night’s sleep. But if you are living on the edge, with an hourly wage job that barely pays enough to keep food on the table, much less provide health insurance, how do you follow those directions? Or if you live in a food desert community where liquor stores and fast food restaurants are more plentiful than grocery stores, produce markets and corner bakeries, what are your choices? Or if the sounds of summer don’t include crickets, but increased gunshots and police activity, how does that help eliminate stress or induce a good night’s rest?

The above is reality for far too many people in our community. The poverty rate in the region is estimated at 6.2%, and approximately 16% of our residents are uninsured. Access to quality healthcare and healthy choices is elusive at best. Think about it: In terms of access to healthcare, there are fewer than 10 hospitals in southeast DC as compared to more than 40 in Northwest Washington DC.

I don’t know about your neighborhood, but in my suburban neighborhood I have a choice of Safeway, Giant Food, Bloom, BJs, Costco, Harris Teeter, Trader Joe’s, and soon Wegman’s, all within about an eight-mile radius. That’s not the case in Southeast DC. In fact, DC Hunger Solutions reports that, of the District of Columbia’s 48 chain supermarkets, there are only three grocery stores in very low-income Wards 7 and 8 combined. By contrast, DC’s Ward 3 – highest in income – is home to eight stores. What’s more, we all know that poor nutrition, obesity, and disease are closely linked, and, once again, our lowest-income communities are at the greatest risk. For example, Ward 7’s obesity rate is 29.4%, with Ward 8 having an obesity rate of more than 33%. Both wards are home to populations that overwhelmingly are African American and house the majority of the District’s children.

The disproportionate crime statistics and the highly concentrated unemployment rates in Southeast Washington, DC are also indicators of community health and well-being. It’s all connected. Do I think we need to have health care reform? Absolutely. But reform begins with responsible choices and, to make responsible choices, you must actually be provided with options. Those options begin with access – access to quality, equitable health-inducing resources. That’s not only health-care reform…that’s community reform!
P.S.: Join our Facebook “Neighbors in Need” page at http://facebook.com/neighborsinneed.

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