MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Features

May 21, 2012

Poverty workshop part of health initiative

— Two of our major social challenges in Muskogee go hand-in-hand: poverty and poor health.

The poorer you are, the sicker you tend to be.

This is not unique to Muskogee; it’s a national reality.

But, with our higher than average poverty rates, lower than average health status, and the importance of health care as an economic engine in our region, we can’t afford to turn a blind eye to the very real connections between poverty and health.

In December 2011, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released “Health Care’s Blind Side: The Overlooked Connection Between Social Needs and Good Health,” which reported the findings of a survey of 1,000 physicians from across the country.

Eighty-five percent of the physicians said a patient’s unmet social needs directly lead to worse health, and 85 percent said that social needs are as important to address as their medical conditions. However, only 20 percent said they felt confident in their ability to address these social needs.

A free “Bridges Into Health” workshop will offer practical insights for identifying and addressing these unmet social needs.

The workshop will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday at the NSU-Muskogee campus, in Room 228 of the Synar Center. It is sponsored by the Eastern Oklahoma Health Care Coalition, Community Circles of Muskogee, Tahlequah Community Campus and Muskogee Wellness Initiative. For physicians and health care administrators, a condensed overview will be offered from 7:30 to 9:15 a.m. at the same location.

Terie Dreussi-Smith, the co-author of “Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities,” will facilitate the workshop to explore health through the lens of economic class and discuss meaningful strategies and efforts to improve health outcomes, reduce avoidable hospital readmission rates and emergency room visits, and improve retention of health care employees and students from low-income backgrounds.

In the lower economic brackets, preventive care is less prevalent, treatment plans are followed less thoroughly and emergency room visits are more likely.

But the effects of poverty in health care extend far beyond the health of the patient.

Data released this month from researchers to the American Heart Association found that communities with higher poverty and racial diversity had 9 percent higher hospital readmission rates within 30 days for Medicare patients treated for congestive heart failure. The report concluded that poverty often plays a larger role in explaining readmissions than quality of care or underlying sickness.

Because hospitals may soon face financial penalties for these readmissions, a financial incentive exists for health providers to learn about and apply promising strategies to improve health outcomes among the poor.

Poverty can even threaten our supply of health professionals to meet the growing care demands of an unhealthier population by making it harder to retain students and professionals health careers.

These examples are just the beginning. The bottom line is that it makes good business and economic sense to address the challenges of poverty as it relates to the broader issue of health care.

One of the recommendations in “Health Care’s Blind Side” is to “recognize that social needs are connected to America’s health. Ultimately, as it relates to our health, our ZIP code is proving to be as important as our genetic code. Health begins — and is maintained — where we live, learn work and play. … Evidence shows that factors such as access to nutritious food, transportation assistance and adequate housing play as important a role in a person’s health as medical treatment or prescription drugs. Physicians are seeking help to address those needs.”

That powerful conclusion deserves to be investigated locally, and we seek to launch a broader conversation about the intersection of health and poverty.

Please join us for the “Bridges Into Health” workshop Thursday. For more information, write to me at lisa@eokhealth.org or call (918) 684-3421. To RSVP, call the Nonprofit Resource Center at (918) 683-4600.

By raising awareness, removing barriers, and offering real-world, self-directed approaches for people struggling financially, together we can make a long-term difference in the health, and wealth, of our community.

Lisa Wade Raasch directs the EOK Health Care Coalition and coordinates the Muskogee Wellness Initiative.

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