Health disparities & the fight for health equity

Tech hosted a “Healthcare Disparities” event on Tuesday, Oct. 24. The event was hosted by multiple student organizations on campus. // Photo by Garrett Shoemaker Student Publications

This Tuesday, Oct. 27, Tech hosted the event “Healthcare Disparities” which consisted of a keynote speaker as well as a panel for a Q&A.

The event was held by GT organizations Student Hospital Connections (SHC), American Medical Student Association (AMSA), Physician Assistant Club (PAC), and STAMPS Health Services Ambassadors who wanted to educate the Tech community on how societal wealth and racial boundaries can influence health.

The event also aimed to raise funds for “Break The Cycle”, a non-profit focused on promoting health equity for children.

The event began with an informational talk from the keynote speaker Breanna Lathrop, chief operating officer and nurse practitioner at Good Samaritan Health Center in Atlanta.

Lathrop began by describing the local divides in Atlanta, and how “zip-code matters more than genetic code” when it comes to determining health outcomes.

In large urban areas, life expectancy can vary anywhere from 4 to 20 years simply based on where someone is located whether in the poorer neighborhoods or more wealthy areas.

“If we care about improving the health of our nation and our communities we have to start talking about social determinants of health,” Lathrop explained.

“That is, the factors in and around our environment that impact our health from housing to access to education, to employment opportunities and socioeconomic status, to even the neighborhood you live in.”

“We have to talk about those driving factors that can create the disparities and inequities that plague our communities.”

“We have to have conversations about racism, oppression, socioeconomic status, and classism that have shaped our policies and have created the situation that we work into the healthcare system today.”

“It’s important to remember that disparities are the result of systematic oppression and structural racism.”

Lathrop emphasized that in order to reform the healthcare system we have today, we need to change the questions being asked by our doctors and nurses.

It is important to understand someone’s background and situation in order to understand how their experiences impact their overall health.

“It’s important to think, okay, someone that’s homeless might have a harder time getting healthcare and living a healthy lifestyle than someone that sleeps inside every night and has access to healthcare.”

“Additionally, people experiencing racism, living in chronic poverty, moving job to job, worrying about if they can get to the end of the month and feed their kids, are living in situations which create chronic stress.”

“Our body can handle temporary acute stress but we are not meant to handle the chronic everyday stress people in these situations are experiencing.”

“This chronic stress eventually leads to high blood pressure that stays and becomes hypertension and can eventually lead to permanent changes to our neurological systems and illnesses like diabetes, stroke, heart disease which can impact future generations as well.”

“There is a correlation between the stress of experiencing these social determinants of health and health outcomes and shorter life spans.”

Lathrop highlighted the importance of social and health equity, rather than equality since people of different backgrounds and barriers need to be treated individually based on their inequalities.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, it’s about designing interventions and redistributing resources in order to say people with the highest risk will need the most support.”

“Health equity is simply that all people have a fair and just opportunity to live a healthy life.”

“People make their own choices but we need to not put barriers in the way and we need to move towards creating systems that support people according to their situation.”

Lathrop then emphasized the importance of voting and working to change the policies that govern our systems and behaviors.

“We have a long history of policy in the US that was created to keep power contained in certain places, we have to undo that. Remember that local policies can make a significant impact.”

“We’re currently in the middle of an election, but don’t just vote. Start getting engaged with your local leaders and lawmakers, call, email, and write letters.”

“Show up and testify for committee hearings.”

“Use your voice and your research as a platform to call out health disparities.”

Two panelists later joined in to answer questions attendees had after Lathrop concluded her seminar.

Sreeni Gangasani, an MD who currently serves as the Medical Director of GAPI volunteer clinic and Jasmine Cofield, the CEO and founder of an organization called the Physician Assistants of Color, took turns answering such questions.

Gangasani began by explaining what he has noticed in terms of inequalities within his profession, and what he believes is important for future Healthcare professionals to know.

“Most of the people who try to not come to the hospital or clinic or avoid lots of testing we find out sooner or later that they lack the insurance they need.”

“Someone with insurance we find come in right then and there with one episode of chest pain in comparison to someone without insurance who don’t want to put too much of a work load on their families or a financial burden on them.”

“These people take a lot longer before they go to the hospital, and sometimes they come in too late and go into congestive heart failure after having too many episodes of chest pain.”

“It is better for us to get to them sooner rather than later which poses a large issue.”

Cofield then provided her input on the same topic.

“From my previous medical experiences, sometimes the patient isn’t met where they are.”

“They might not have nearby markets with healthy foods or someone might not have taken the time to educate the person on what foods to avoid or how to exercise to help their condition.”

“Someone without a car immediately is at a disadvantage as they may not have access to a park or somewhere for exercise or a market for healthy food.”

“It’s a privilege to pay for a gym membership and those are the things people, especially those going into healthcare, should be considering.”