President Obama’s election has made a significant impact on my world view as an African-American registered nurse for more than 31 years. I believe the changes we’ve imagined now can become a reality. But where does our new president begin?
Without a doubt, a promise that must be realized is to provide access to healthcare services for the nearly 47 million uninsured Americans and the millions more who are likely underinsured. Imagine the celebration that would ensue once this comes to pass.
For African Americans, Obama’s election also means the nation can move forward in authorizing ethical stem cell research that can lead to treatments or cures for diseases — such as sickle cell disease, hypertension, congestive heart failure, renal failure, and heart disease — that disproportionately affect African Americans. And let’s not forget diabetes, which results in all-too-frequent-lower-limb amputations.
And what about cancer disparities? For African-American women, death rates from breast cancer are alarmingly higher than deaths for white women with breast cancer, despite a higher incidence in white women. The incidence of lung cancer and colon cancer also is higher among African Americans.
Quality, affordable healthcare coverage, including education about prevention, will help correct African Americans’ health disparities.
The more than 15 years I have under my belt as an ED nurse also shapes my opinion of what President Obama must focus on in reforming the healthcare system for everyone. Too frequently, the uninsured and underinsured access healthcare through the most expensive point of care — the overcrowded, and often understaffed, ED. This care is not only expensive, but it’s also fragmented.
ED care cannot provide the ongoing monitoring and follow-up services many chronic diseases require.
The Obama administration cannot fix these problems alone. Individuals must adopt healthy lifestyle choices.
An emphasis also should be placed on healthcare education and services across the life span. Educating young people and adults so they understand the consequences of their lifestyle choices can help decrease the incidence of tobacco use and provide a new awareness of the dangers of obesity and lack of exercise, which can reduce some comorbid conditions.
As we share in the promise and excitement the new administration ushers in, we need to use the opportunity to make healthcare available to all as a human right. This can be the time we provide healthcare safety nets so individuals can live with dignity and without the worry of financial ruin because healthcare is unaffordable.
If safety nets fail, the challenge of providing healthcare services is one we are not capable of meeting, and the productivity of our nation is left at risk.
Imagine fully funded healthcare services for children, families, adults, and seniors. Imagine the lives and dollars that will be saved if illnesses are prevented. This can be achieved as our new president guides us to needed change for a healthy America.