Black Health Professional panel discuss agenda

By Dr. Richard Hackney

In the February 10, 1999 issue of The BBJ, I charged African American Organizations to, at least, include health care in their present agendas. It is enlightening to write about a local Black organization, The Houston Association of Black Journalists, whose programming reflects concern regarding the health care issue.

Recently, The Houston Association of Black Journalists hosted a community forum entitled "Health Care in Harris County... Does it Work for the African American Community?" Despite this group's commendable planning efforts as well as ample advertising coverage by the local media, the overall low attendance proved to be a classic illustration of the lack of infrastructure within the African American community. Moderated by Channel 13's Melanie Lawson, featured forum speakers were Dr. Lois Moore, outgoing CEO of the Harris County Hospital District; Dr. Joyce Carter, Chief Medical Examiner for Harris County; Dr. Mary des Vignes, Director of Houston Health & Human Services; and Dr. Natalie Carroll, Medical Director for Gulf Coast Managed Care.

For those of you who missed this timely program, the following key points were made in reference to our community's failing health and health care status. Dr. Moore emphasized the lack of early detection as a major factor in poor minority health statistics. The emergency room has become the primary care unit for most patients. Dr. Carter pointed out the increasing percentages of early deaths among middle aged African American males. This phenomenon is due to the failure to aggressively pursue adequate health prevention practices among this population. Dr. Kendrick, who was also in attendance, gave an excellent update on health statistics in relation to ethnicity and Medicaid participation. Dr. Carroll also stressed other factors leading to such a poor state of health some of which were lack of networking among providers, cultural insensitivity and family values.

There was excellent audience participation with questions of concern from the community. The absence of pertinent health information made available to the African American Community was voiced as a serious problem. In response to requests to repeat this timely forum, education came to be expressed as the central need and all in attendance were charged to become a committee of one dedicated to playing a key role in helping to address this issue.

Friends, it is time for minority groups to begin influencing, planning and owning health care services in the minority community. We can not continue to depend on governmental agencies to plan and administer health care to our parents, children, families, friends, and neighbors. Due to the fact that dependancy breeds complacency, I must say that we have become entirely too dependent on these agencies. Future forums must start with informing but not stop there. We must move on to educating, planning and implementing in order to impact health care in our homes, our communities and our nation.