­­‘Unnatural Causes’: Is inequality in healthcare making Americans sick?

October 2010 Posted in Your Health

By Kristine Thomas

Unnatural Causes
Film and discussion series
Monday, Oct. 4, 11, 18, 25; 7 p.m.,
Silverton Hospital, Free. 503-873-1500

Dr. Michael Grady saw more than an empty mayonnaise jar with a few coins and a hand-written note asking for donations to pay for an ill child’s medical treatment.

“Seeing the jar in the mom-and-pop store, it hit me ‘wow, what would it be like to be that child’s father’,” Grady said. “I had four kids who I could take care of if something happened to one of them.”

Grady realized the jar represented a family who didn’t have health care coverage.

“There are many families that are forced to raising money at a spaghetti dinner or empty jar at a store to provide health care for their families,” Grady said. “That was the moment I first got interested in health care reform.”

A Silverton resident, Grady, 60, works at the McClaine Street Clinic and volunteers at the Community Outreach Clinic. Frustrated by what he sees happening in healthcare and believing something needs to be done, he’s at the point in his life where he’s ready to speak out. “I’d rather be the happy warrior type and try to raise people’s consciousness than sit on the fence and do nothing,” he said. “I believe being a person of faith means not just having hope but working toward the realization of that hope, in this case, toward a more just society.”

Along with social justice leaders from United Methodist, Friends Church and St. Paul’s Catholic Church, he is hosting a four-part film series called “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?” They will lead a discussion on the award-winning documentary about the root causes of illness. The film attempts to reframe the debate.

According to an “Unnatural Causes” press release, Americans spend $2 trillion a year to “patch up our bodies, more than twice per person what the average industrialized country spends. Yet (Americans) lag behind 28 other countries in life expectancy, 29 other countries in infant mortality, and chronic illness costs businesses more than $1 trillion a year in lost productivity.”

Looking at the advances in healthcare, Grady asked “why do other countries like us in resources have better health outcomes?”

Healthcare needs to be more than what happens in a doctor’s office, Grady said. It also needs to examine where a person lives, his job, stress level, race and education.

A person who lives in a neighborhood with easy access to fresh, affordable produce is bound to be healthier than a person who lives in a neighborhood with only fast-food restaurants and convenience stores, he said.
Volunteering three-weeks in Haiti in July showed Grady how environmental inequities play a role. He saw people who had worms, scabies, anemia, dysentery and malaria.

“I could treat them but I was sending them back to the same conditions. They didn’t need my skills as a doctor,” he said. “They needed clean water, better roads, mosquito netting … that would do more to improve their health.”

In Silverton, he has the same concern. He can provide a prescription for a child with asthma. But he can’t eliminate a cause, mold growing on the walls of the child’s home.

“I can patch people up but I can’t address the root problem,” he said. “I can tell a person to eat healthier or exercise but if those options aren’t available, they can’t really do them.”

He encourages people to see the films to understand what’s happening with America’s health system.

Improving health care isn’t a job just for the medical profession. He said it requires recognizing health care inequities and addressing them. “There are people who say it’s too expensive or can’t be done,” he said. “We need to shift the focus.”

Every summer, many people end up in the emergency room or hospitalized due to heat illness. Grady said we need to broaden our notion of health care to include things such as in room air conditioners. Americans need to change the focus from providing health care to producing health.

“If we redirect resources, we can solve problems in healthcare,” he said.

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