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Health Equity Can’t Wait — So off to the White House I went!

This guest post is written by Kristen Noelle Hatcher

Kristen Noelle Hatch with Surgeon General Regina Benjamin

In April, aka National Minority Health Month, I received countless emails regarding events addressing health equity. One morning, an invitation arrived with a red exclamation mark- it was an invitation to the WHITE HOUSE! It was hosting its first ever Minority Health Blogger’s Town Hall. I checked my calendar and promptly sent in my security clearance and booked my ticket. The creation of health equity is my passion and the fact that our current administration has taken it on as a priority thrills me to no end.

When I arrived at the town hall I was surrounded by others equally enthusiastic. We took our seats and became sponges for the next hour. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin spoke about shifting the priority to prevention and wellness- the foundation for building a stronger healthcare system. Achieving this will help individuals of all ages prevent and manage chronic illnesses which impact over fifty percent of the population

Evidence shows that if four modifiable behaviors including tobacco use, lack of physical activity, excessive alcohol use, and poor nutrition are improved, there will be measurable improvements in chronic disease prevention and outcomes. We would see healthier children who will be better learners, more productive adults who will work more days and seniors who can better maintain their independence.

Currently the nation spends $444 billion dollars a year on cardiovascular disease alone. It is in everyone’s moral and fiscal interest to promote prevention and wellness.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides a historic funding commitment to promote prevention and wellness. The ACA established the National Preventative Health Promotion Public Health Council, chaired by Dr. Benjamin, which includes 17 cabinet level members from the departments of transportation, agriculture, defense, and many others. This summer the council released the National Prevention Strategy with the goal to increase the number of people that are well at every stage of life.

Secretary Sebelius at Minority Health Town Hall Meeting

Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius began with a statement that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made 46 years ago, that sadly still rings true today. He called inequality in health care the most inhumane form of injustice, because there is nothing more fundamental to opportunity than good health. The infant mortality rates for African American children in the U.S. are higher than that of developing countries. One in three Latinos and one in five African Americans do not have a regular source of care.

The ACA invests in workforce development and includes incentives for providers to work in underserved areas in exchange for loan repayment.  Eighty percent of those providers stay in those areas beyond the terms of their commitment.  The ACA further invests eleven billion dollars in community health centers to expand the services of current centers and to build new sites.

As the town hall came to a close, some of the panelists shared more personal pieces. My favorite sharing was Dr. Benjamin’s, who spoke about the need to find the joy. The joy of getting healthy is different for everyone. For some it may be playing with your grandchild, for others running down a country road, for some others dancing the night away. This really resonated with me. What we are doing may be hard work but we all should have fun doing it and remind others to do the same. Whether we are teaching someone how to get healthy or teaching someone how they can help us promote health equity- let’s enjoy the journey when we can!

Kristen Noelle Hatcher is a health equity advocate and medical access attorney at Connecticut Legal Services where she advocates for the low income residents of the state through individual and systemic advocacy. Connect with Kristen on LinkedIN or Twitter.

Images courtesy of Kristen Noelle Hatcher

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