by Lauren Nguyen, UTHSC BSN Student
When I think about practical steps to serving the underserved, it is hard for me to know where to begin. It seems that health care disparity is so deeply built into our system that each individual effort feels miniscule. However, I know that though I as an individual may not change the entire system, I can still impact individuals’ lives who are underserved and overlooked. And even further, we can all help underserved populations by advocating for them and having open conversations about why health care disparity exists.
One practical idea I have seen to connect the underserved to health care is a free medical clinic set up for a determined amount of time where people can come and receive essential care. I think it is a marvelous idea to just allow people to come as they are and provide them with some basic yet critical healthcare services. Something as simple as getting a tooth pulled or receiving a pair of glasses can dramatically increase an individual’s quality of life. There is a limit to how far this can reach, though, and it still misses the opportunity for individuals to form a more long term relationship with a primary care provider.
Beside the barrier of cost, underserved populations often also face the barrier of time. Perhaps a single mother works more than one job on top of caring for her children. In cases such as these, it may be difficult for an individual to even find time to go to a clinic, even if it is free. I think it would be great for workplaces to have more initiative to provide healthcare for their employees. It would be great if somehow companies could work in certain hours that employees could see a primary care provider for a yearly checkup, etc. during work hours, without losing pay. I believe this would not only benefit workers, but ultimately the company, also. If employees are taken care of, they will most likely have better performance.
Along these same lines, people who live in a community without many clinics or hospitals nearby may not have the time or means to travel to a clinic ten or more miles away. For this issue, perhaps larger, successful health care facilities could make an effort to move into these communities to provide health care in their own neighborhood.
Another initiative I think would be beneficial is providing health information in high-school education. Not just your typical health class, but a class that explains who is eligible for certain health insurances and how to enroll in those. I have spoken with individuals on several occasions who did not have health insurance simply because the process was too confusing and they did not have time to figure it out.
I would love to hear from residents of Memphis to learn more about their own perceived barriers to health care. I think simply taking the time to listen to concerns is a huge first step toward making progress. Though it seems like a long road toward equal care for all, every effort made sets a standard for those following behind us and I believe we can make some great advancements to decrease health care disparity in our communities.