Our health is a product of our environment. Therefore, a healthy community should be one in which all residents have access to quality education, safe and healthy homes, adequate employment, transportation, nutrition, and quality health care. Right? Sadly, the dominant public narrative blames individuals for their poor health and renders the social determinants of healthContinue reading “Addressing Health Disparities Through Voter Engagement: A Social Worker’s Point of View”
In addition to these and other top-down approaches to increasing health equity and access, we have the opportunity to empower individual patients and healthcare providers to take action from the bottom-up. Voting—and civic engagement more broadly—are viable pathways for patients and providers alike to have a voice in shaping the policies that drive inequities and create disparities in health outcomes. As a central and often trusted community touchpoint, healthcare settings are a powerful place to promote access to the ballot box. It is imperative that healthcare institutions and providers engage in concrete and sustained efforts to increase civic participation as a means of empowerment and better health.
Family physician Dr. Karen Smith has been helping patients register to vote while administering COVID-19 tests at her clinic in Raeford, a rural town in Hoke County, North Carolina. Smith’s voter registration efforts stretch back to the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Though COVID-19 testing and treatment has strained community health centers across the nation, Smith has maintained a steadfast commitment to civic health over the past few months. Smith said she believes voting is important because she sees a direct connection between government action and community health.
Today, on the anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, I think about the hope that protest gave me. Today the context is completely different, and yet it is exactly the same. COVID’s disproportionate impact on America is a byproduct of our nation’s persistent inequality. Violence against unarmed black men remains frequent, heartbreaking, and intractable. And the need to march (virtually or physically) while also exercising our democratic voice as a crucial form of expression is clear as day.
While the predominant mechanism for healthcare providers to get patients, colleagues, and family members registered to vote or get them their mail-in ballots has been through the direct, in person, use of the Healthy Democracy Kit, our users have innovated several key new ways to leverage the simple technology behind the kits to get thousands of people ready to vote in November. Below are some of our favorite ways.
In the wake of the 19th Amendment, birth control was made more accessible and affordable, and state Medicaid programs were mandated to include services and supplies for family planning.
Through all of these changes, an important commonality exists: 26 million women were granted the right to vote, and many of them acted on it. Many of them continued to be activists for the issues that mattered to them, including but in no way limited to their health and the health of their children. Their voices were heard in every corner of America, taken seriously by legislators in Congress, and backed at the ballot box at last.
Today, on the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, there are many reasons to feel concerned and even afraid. We have lost Congressman Lewis and other giants like Reverend C. T. Vivian at a vital time in our country’s political evolution. We are navigating questions of how to ensure equity and integrity in our elections in the midst of a global pandemic. We face an incomprehensible flurry of state-level laws, administrative choices, and resourcing decisions that make it challenging to uphold the intent of the Voting Rights Act.
Civic health is vital to your own well-being and the well-being of your entire community. As members of a democracy, we are empowered to use the tools available to us — like voting, signing petitions, talking to our representatives, and taking action together — as we fight for what we believe can be better. The same way you look after your physical and mental health, you should be taking care of your civic health to make sure you are in the best position you can to do this.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, and don’t we all wish there was a magical voting fruit we could eat to avoid a trip to the DMV? I mean, imagine a world where eating an orange boosted your Vitamin D levels and autofilled your voter registration application. Peak multitasking if you ask me, but here we are, stuck in a world with plain old oranges, some extra Vitamin D, and a blank application.
Up to 80% of an individual’s health outcomes are determined outside of the healthcare setting due to factors such as unequal access to food, clean air, stable housing and educational opportunity. The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black, Brown and low-income communities is a tragic but predictable outcome of this inequality. To eliminate these disparities, we must empower patients to participate in shaping public policy — health and civic engagement are not two separate issues, but rather one and the same.