Live Long and Prosper – Health, Wellness and Long Life. Is it Achievable for African Americans?

Live Long and Prosper – Health, Wellness and Long Life. Is it Achievable for African Americans?


~By: Julie Hutchinson MPA, BSN, RN, Community Health Nurse




There is no greater agony that bearing an untold story inside of you. – Dr. Maya Angelou As a child and family health community health nurse, I spent most of my days working with families in their homes in the city of Rochester and less often, families in the surrounding suburbs. I still reflect on why African American and Latino families in the city seem to have
more prevalent health issues and why the city seemed to be where most of my referrals came from. I was frustrated
by what I saw. As a younger nurse, the answers seemed so simple. I figured that with information and access to good
health care and nutrition, wellness would be achieved. So why is it that even though we are almost drowning in
health information, have unprecedented access to health care and the opportunity to eat healthy, are we—more than
others—still suffering? Why are we dying earlier, and more often, from preventable or manageable diseases like high
blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, cancer, HIV, and liver diseases? Why are we more likely to experience premature
births, poor child growth and development, homicide, addiction, depression, or even accidents like house fires?
After so many years of working with families and trying to convince them that the keys to good health are right in their
hands, I came to realize that it is far more complicated—it comes down a lack of readiness or willingness to commit
and focus. Worthy distractions like poverty, joblessness, inadequate housing, stressed or volatile personal
relationships and others, create barriers that often keep us derailed and off the road to better health. So what is
the answer? After all these years, I honestly cannot say. I can say that the Children’s Defense Fund recently reported

that Rochester is the third poorest city in the nation, just behind Cleveland and Detroit. Believe it or not, I am encouraged that this data has been revealed. In health care, data is what leads to the mobilization of needed resources. I hear the words of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.” I am hopeful. I believe that we can, and I hope that we will, all of us, do our part to eliminate the poverty and health disparities which plague African Americans, Latinos and the poor. I am hopeful knowing that a new approach to health care is evolving, called patient centered care, where health
care providers begin to better understand the whole patient. In this new approach, the health care experience begins with changing the way doctors talk to patients. “What would you like me to help you with today? or “Is there anything that I can help you better understand about your health?” Questions like, “How do you feel about what happened here today? How can we do things differently to better meet your needs?” or “What do you think is making it difficult for you to be healthier?” allow patients the opportunity to tell their story. It gives me hope when policy makers make it a priority to appropriate public funds to aggressively eliminate poverty and health disparities; thus, building our communities back up to support families. It invests in their opportunities for healthy choices and activities, affordably and safely, in convenient locations. I am hopeful that as educators, nurses, clergy and individuals, we can pick up the mantle to foster wellness so as to improve the health and wellness of others. I am hopeful when academic medical centers, faculty, employers and health care providers, fully realize their
charge to effectively address the health care needs of the poor through persistent exploration, study, and efforts beyond the doctor’s office. Such efforts should include community based and collaborative activities that impact poverty, education, policies, and healthcare standards locally and nationwide. I am hopeful that as we explore concepts like “The New Jim Crow” whereby incarceration and the justice system serve to oppress families from the inside out, we will expose the lack of consistent efforts to rehabilitate offenders and it’s direct effect in fostering joblessness, recidivism and lives of crime, especially for certain demographic groups. The trend is towards improved implementation, and expansion, of drug courts, adolescent courts and
mental health courts where a problem-solving community based treatment and intervention approach is employed
in lieu of traditional justice system procedures. I am hopeful that local organizations like the African American and Latino Health Coalitions; The Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency; the IBERO American Action League; the Black Leadership Commission on AIDS and the Children’s Defense Fund will continue their work—engaging consumers, health and human service providers and policy makers—to affect all of the above. Lastly, I am very hopeful that parents will model, educate and motivate the next generation to be better, smarter, leaner, healthier, and productive. With all the above said and all that is being done, strides toward unprecedented health and wellness for our people are being made even though we have a long way to go.
Dr. King said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” To give up on this would be an injustice.