Panelists from left are Tiye Link, KaShawna Parker, Kanika Young, Celia Ezidiegwu, M. D. and Sharon Roberson, President/CEO of the YWCA.

By Sandra Long Weaver
Tribune Editorial Director

Access to health care remains elusive for many people of color in Middle Tennessee, a panel of health care providers discussed at a YWCA-sponsored forum on July 11.

The disparity in access could be through lack of insurance, inadequate transportation, poor housing or even racial or sexual profiling in a conversation with a health care provider.

“Being healthy is a civil rights issue,” said Sharon Roberson, President and CEO of the YWCA, who moderated the panel during a 90-minute discussion.

“If you lift those up who need health care most, then everyone could be healthy,” Roberson said.

In addition, Tiye Link said mental health issues could also be an obstacle to getting health care. “Sometimes people don’t even know they need help, said Link who works with HIV and AIDS patients. “All of these issues intersect; they all affect each other,” she said.

KaShawna Parker, who works for Metro Health department, pointed out that sometimes people are getting treatment in local Emergency Rooms, the most expensive point for providing health care.

“That cost gets passed on to others,” she said. “Premiums get higher. The hospitals don’t absorb the costs. People need preventive care” not reactive care.”

 Celia Ezidiegwu, M.D., a resident at Meharry Medical College, noted that nearly 100,000 people in Middle Tennessee are defined as being underserved by the healthcare system. Even though Nashville has a reputation as a healthcare hub, only three places  _ Nashville General, Meharry and the Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center _ take on the highest percentage of uncompensated health care.

So what are the solutions? The people of Tennessee are suffering greatly because of the lack of access to health care, said Kanika Young, Director of Children’s Health for the Tennessee Jusice Center.

The state legislature chose not to take the money that would cover 300,000 people in the state, she pointed out. So far, the state has missed out on $7 billion because the legislature has not expanded Medicaid care. “These are federal tax dollars that we all pay that’s going to other states,” she said.

Parker said health care providers need to be more inclusive in their language when dealing with patients who are from the LBGTQ community. “Just a light change in language can make us more welcoming to people,” Parker said.

Link said laws concerning HIV need to be updated so they are not holding onto the stigmas about the disease. People who are infected have to disclose their status to a sexual partner or they could be charged with a felony. That discourages people from getting tested and can contribute to the spread of the disease.

Other suggestions included taking into consideration adverse childhood experiences (ACES) when developing a course of treatment. The panelists also said people should not be afraid to reach out to lawmakers to let them know how policies affect real people. 

“Be an ally. Make sure people whose voices are not being heard get heard,”Parker said. “Give voice to the voices.”