“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
“The goal of this forum is to bring together health and mental health providers and administrators, policy makers, African American women and youth, church leaders, and other interested individuals to begin a meaningful conversation about current health concerns impacting the community and to develop strategies to improve the health status of African Americans in Merced County.”
– An Invitation – First African American Women’s Health Forum
I was recently asked to photograph a health forum near my home in California’s Central Valley. This was something I was more than happy to do. It is my opinion that events such as this – i.e., grass-roots efforts which precipitate community outreach and participation – are the cornerstone of our beloved Republic and the great and grand experiment of government by and for the people. And so it was on this particular Saturday, when a group of approximately fifty individuals took part in a health forum to have their opinions heard and express concerns shared by many in the community.
This particular event focused on African American women in the community and, more specifically, the issues they face with regard to health care. The primary issues discussed were:
- Access to health care:
- Geographical, logistical or transportation impediments, particularly to economically disadvantaged areas.
- Insurance i.e., availability of coverage and/or health-care funding in disadvantaged communities.
- Access to preventative care for African Americans.
- Conduct of medical staff:
- Disparity of communication efforts with different ethnic groups.
- Inequality of respect when treating different ethnic groups.
- Ignorance to the lack of respect given to African American women in a health-care setting.
- Education and awareness regarding medical care:
- African American women not seeking sufficient preventative care.
- Self education to understand health issues or conditions, and to assist in seeking proper treatment.
- Being accompanied by additional person(s) during medical visits to ask questions, assist with understanding what is being explained or to act as witness.
The health forum was conducted at Sound Life International Ministries in Merced, California, with the proceedings organized and directed by Ms. Marilyn Mochel and Ms. Nailah Hubbard of the Boys and Girls Club of Merced. The format for the event included introductions of the keynote speaker and panel members, with time allowed prior to conclusion of the event for a question and answer session.
The event was scheduled for four hours and, though it ran slightly longer than scheduled, most attendees stayed for the duration. This was due, I believe, to the high degree of interest in topics being discussed and availability of information from subject matter experts, particularly those from the Merced community.
Attendees were from a variety of backgrounds, including staff from the nearby Mercy Medical Center, a local Primary Care Physician, the Mayor of Merced, Stan Thurston, and local church leaders. Most appeared to be listening with great interest and engaged in note taking, with a large number actively participating in debates and exchanges of information and experiences. The Mercy Medical staff addressed questions regarding policy and personal experiences, the Physician made suggestions to the attendees on how to effectively communicate with their doctors, and Mayor Thurston listened with interest, frequently taking notes.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Sandra Davis, who spoke at length of the challenges faced by African American women when seeking health care. Dr. Davis raised the issue of poor access to health-care facilities for inner-city families – predominantly minority populations – when most new health-care facilities are located outside of the inner-city, away from the populations least able to provide their own transportation.
Dr. Davis discussed at length the importance of professional conduct by medical staff, including the necessity of demonstrating respect and dignity to patients, and to understand the importance of this within the African American community.
Sharing many of her personal experiences as a life-long professional in the Health Care industry, Dr. Davis explained her frustration with policy makers whose intentions are to limit health-care resources for underpriveledged communities.
At the conclusion of her speech the audience was provided time to ask questions of Dr. Davis during a question and answer session. With this completed, the forum recessed for an on-site lunch catered by Reverand Jacqueline Day of Special Day’s Catering. It appeared that most used this time as an opportunity to engage in further discussions and for getting to know others in attendance. And I must say the lunch was very, very good. Thank you, Jacqueline.
With lunch behind us, the forum resumed with several panel members taking their places on each side of the speaker’s podium. Each member would speak in turn of their personal experiences as African American women seeking medical care in the health-care industry. Each speaker approached the topic from their unique and individual perspective. As each story was unvelied, the speaker tied personal experiences to an issue of concern with regard to circumstances, policies or practices within the health-care system.
The experiences of the panel members mirrored or reflected those of Dr. Davis, providing underpinnings of supporting evidence to demonstrate the purpose and intent of the forum; to raise awareness of the challenges faced by African American women when accessing health care.
This past weekend’s forum is posted on the Merced County Events web-site, and with a follow-up conference scheduled for November 2, 2013, those interested should plan to revisit the web-site for updates. You may also contact Ms. Nailah Hubbard at, firstname.lastname@example.org. For anyone interested or concerned about the state-of-affairs or goings-on in their community, these events are a very informative and constructive way to spend just a few hours out of the weekend.
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