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Event highlights access to health care

by Carolyn Pennington - October 20, 2008


Good health should not be a privilege; it should be a right. That was one of the assertions made on Oct. 3 at a forum on the problems of accessing health care in Hartford, which attracted more than 150 community members, health care providers, professors, students, and politicians.

The event, held at Hartford’s Real Art Ways, was organized by UConn medical students Erica Hinz, Teresa Doucet, Shan Shan Jiang, and Shubha Venkatesh.

“We reached our goal of bringing together a very diverse and enthusiastic group of people to raise awareness about this issue,” says Hinz.

Speakers included Dr. Laurel Baldwin-Ragaven, Hartford family physician and human rights scholar at Trinity College; small business owner Kevin Galvin, Connecticut Commercial Maintenance; and Carlos Rivera, Hartford’s director of health and human services.

“This is a critical issue that needs all of our attention,” said Rivera. “Good health should not be a privilege; it’s a right. It is incumbent on us to fight for those who do not have health insurance and are being denied the right to health care.”

The U.S. is the world’s only advanced nation that fails to provide health coverage to all its residents, Rivera maintained. In 2005, Connecticut spent approximately $15 billion on health care, including $572 million on the direct health costs of uninsured residents.

Doucet, one of the students, said, “The oft-quoted statistic that 47 million Americans lack health insurance is nowhere more apparent than in Hartford.

Approximately 20 to 30 percent of residents of the so-called insurance capital of the world are uninsured, and twice as many are underinsured.”

The uninsured receive less preventive care, less appropriate care for chronic illnesses, and fewer hospital services when admitted; they are also more likely to die prematurely, she added.

The medical students’ desire to raise awareness about health care disparities meshes with the Health Center’s Strategic Plan for Diversity.

“As an institution, our goal is to make sure the best business practices of building, valuing, and managing a diverse workforce and student body are fully implemented, operationally successful, and continually improved,” said Carolyn Lyle, executive director of the Office of Diversity and Equity at the Health Center.

Lyle cited a recent study by the Connecticut Health Foundation’s Policy Panel on Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities which found that lack of diversity in the health care workforce has a substantial negative impact on the quality of care for racial and ethnic communities.

Recommendations included enhancing Hartford’s health and wellness infrastructure, improving access to affordable prescription medications, and making primary health care more accessible by expanding the hours of operation at Hartford’s health centers.

The students plan to turn the artwork and multimedia presentations from the event into a mobile exhibit to be displayed at libraries, community centers, hospitals, and Hartford’s City Hall.

“We hope to build on this over the next year and start engaging the community on issues that are sometimes thought of as discrete problems, but which are connected to what is happening with our health care system,” says Venkatesh.

“For example, are there parks? Is there a safe way to cross the street? Are your children safe in the neighborhood? These are all questions that directly tie into the health of our communities.”

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