If we take this odd year as one that is truly odd in multiple ways – not just the final digit of 2021 but in its unique position following upon a disruptive year – then we find ourselves in an odd year like no other. It is not simply the year after a Presidential election. It is a year when we are defining our new normal.
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.
Our healthcare workers have been referred to as the frontline; they are also often the last defense. Too often, they’re seeing patients when it has reached the worst case scenario of diabetic coma after months of rationing insulin, or being put on dialysis because they couldn’t afford medication in the earlier stages of kidney failure.
It takes physicians and allied health professions advocating for their patients’ health beyond what can be done in a medical context. It will take giving everyone a voice in our democracy and getting people registered to vote, but it will not stop there. It takes mutual aid, organizing, advocacy, protesting, donating.
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.
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.