Sunday, February 26, 2012

Reflection on Health Disparities by Karim Pirani

The purpose of the Emerging Minds Project (EMP) is to create an intellectually open and dynamic environment for students to learn about and discuss social justice issues of today. Each month, a group of students come together at 5710 to dialogue with an experienced facilitator who works in the field.
This blog is an outlet for each of our members' voices. While this is a collection of their personal thoughts, we hope to display a glimpse of the multifaceted ways that each topic impacts the individual members of the EMP cohort.

*The views and opinions expressed in these blog entries are that of each individual author and do not necessarily reflect a collective opinion of the EMP cohort or that of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

Reflection from the Racial Health Disparities in Chicago: What Can Be Done? panel by Karim Pirani. For a quick summary of the event, please visit the Chicago Maroon article.

On Monday February 20th, OMSA held an event entitled, Racial Health Disparities in Chicago: What Can Be Done?, which was co-sponsored by many different RSOs on campus. The event hosted a variety of panelists who offered their unique perspectives as to the problems plaguing the current health care system and the racial discrepancies that are all too prevalent within it. These panelists included two doctors, a nurse, a chief medical officer of a hospital, and a community activist. The overall purpose of the discussion was three-fold: to figure where exactly the disparities are to be found, to investigate what is causing them, and then finding appropriate solutions to remedy the situation.

Of the various panelists, some were concerned primarily with the inadequacies of the current health care system, especially in terms of access and opportunity. Perhaps the most obvious area of need was touched on by the community activist, whose group FLY has been fighting for a trauma center on the south side of Chicago for multiple years now. The activist, Veronica, also mentioned the group’s continued efforts to try and eliminate juvenile detention facilities in favor of rehabilitation centers. Though she did not elaborate on her plan, the idea that alternative forms of discipline and reform be implemented seemed very appealing to me. Though I am wary of eliminating juvenile detention centers altogether (especially for great offences like murder), I do think that the idea of ulterior means of development merits some attention. 

Another person who talked about the insufficiencies of healthcare (especially for African-Americans) was the Executive Director of Project Brotherhood. This group seeks to supply African-American men with a social atmosphere in which health-related information may be shared and further disseminated. To its credit, Project Brotherhood also desires to do more than just provide a stable environment, but rather go into the community and train and educate people. This is very similar to the work of another panelist, a pediatrician at the University of Chicago Medical Center, who is engaged in a host of community related partnerships aimed specifically at raising awareness of different diseases. Moreover, the pediatrician argued that the fundamental solution was in increasing availability of care. This can be done so only by raising awareness and planting ideas in the minds of the community and politicians, who can directly affect change.

The CMO of Rush Hospital, who was also present, offered a unique perspective in that he was equipped with knowledge of the business side of medicine and relevant statistics. He contended that the system suffered from not only a lack of adequate funding, but also of inefficient spending. He maintained that the incentive structure for medicine was flawed because the current pay-per-diagnosis method does not favor prevention. Additionally, I was surprised to hear that the life expectancy in Hyde Park was 83, while it was only 64 in neighboring Washington Park. This “death gap,” as he identified it, is perpetuated by the current structure of the health care system. The nurse, who practices at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital, also brought up an interesting perspective in terms of the inherent social structures of hospitals. She spoke of immigrants who were wary of being deported if they sought medical attention and the need to alter the system through social policy in order to alleviate the burden on these groups.

After considering the opinions and perspectives of the diverse group of panelists, I was greatly educated about the problems of health care and potential solutions to it. I realized that health is much more than just health care. Instead, it encompasses basically everything in life and, therefore, is affected as much out hospitals as it is within them. I now also recognize that the need to reform the health care system must start from the ground up. Essentially, we cannot just provide people universal access to health care, but rather must fundamentally transform the ways of life (thereby incorporating all aspects of health). This means, as some of the panelists pointed out, that we need to seek out solutions to economic and social problems through apropos policy measures in tandem with fighting for greater access to health care. Personally, I believe the problem itself is not inherently about race, but rather about class and a lack of opportunity. While these do sometimes go hand in hand, it is an important distinction to make because there are other disadvantaged groups in society whom we should not forsake.

All in all, the panelists were frank, the questions were stimulating, and the discussion was great. Students were able to understand more fully why the health care system needs reform and what they can do about it. If not inspired to action, at least their minds were exposed to some novel perspectives.