The Craig Fahle Show

The Connect Between Civil Rights and Healthcare

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

This graph shows the difference between races as it pertains to access to healthcare (2010) Dave Law; executive director of the Joy Southfield Community Development Corporation in Detroit and Chris Allen; CEO of Detroit Wayne County Health Authority recently wrote an editorial in remembrance of the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. The two point out the continued disparity between rich and poor and minorities and whites, when it comes to access to healthcare. Both join Craig in the studio to discuss the link between civil rights and healthcare in Detroit.

Here is the text of their editorial:

By Dave Law, Ph.D., and Chris Allen

As we honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this February, it’s worth recalling one of his more profound observations made in 1966, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."

During the intervening 47 years, public health and other sectors have increasingly appreciated that health disparities go beyond injustice in healthcare. Certainly, eliminating health disparities will require increasing access to quality healthcare for all Americans; and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is an essential, but insufficient, first step in that process. It will also require increasing access to affordable, healthy food, safe recreational facilities, safe community environments, quality education, quality housing, and economic opportunities.

A framework for this holistic approach to promoting health equity is defined in the National Prevention Strategy (NPS; http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/initiatives/prevention/strategy), a less well known component of the ACA. There are two over-arching goals of NPS - improving health for all Americans across the life course (womb to tomb) and the elimination of health disparities. It’s time to make the elimination of health disparities the primary focus of the modern civil rights movement. In so doing, we will not just be addressing healthcare, but also the community-based and economic resources needed to support healthy communities inhabited by healthy individuals.

In 2013, Wayne County (Detroit and inner suburbs) ranked last among 82 Michigan counties evaluated for health factors and health outcomes (countyhealthrankings.org). That’s in spite of the substantial healthcare resources represented by the Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System, Beaumont, CME/Trinity Health and other community-based providers. Part of the problem is that healthcare resources are concentrated in islands while there are severe healthcare professional shortages in Detroit’s neighborhoods. More importantly, where people live, work, eat, play and pray has more impact on their health status than whether or not they have access to quality care. These so-called ‘social determinants of health’ are driving excess morbidity (sickness) and mortality (premature death) in Detroit (and other under-served communities). Adding insult to injury, communities of color and low-income families bear a disproportionate burden of chronic disease. The persistence of racial and economic health disparities in the United States is an ethical and human rights failure, discrediting our ability to criticize other nations for human rights violations.

Fifty years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, many Americans fail to realize the opportunity to live a healthy life and all that health allows. It’s time to make the elimination of health disparities the primary focus of the modern civil rights movement. In so doing, we will not just be addressing health care, but also the community-based and economic resources needed to promote population health and support the development of healthy, sustainable communities inhabited by healthy individuals.

(Dave Law, Ph.D., is executive director of the Joy Southfield Community Development Corporation in Detroit. Chris Allen is the executive director and CEO of the Detroit Wayne County Health Authority.)