May 26, 2011

For Compassion

What did you do last weekend? Were you waiting. The world is still a place we call home, for now.  The smell of fear is in the air across America and also around the globe with Icelandic ash halting travel and increasing concerns about climate change and the environment. Streams of pictures moving across the news about Joplin along with more tornado watches and grim forecasts are disheartening.
It’s time for relief efforts.  It’s time for compassion. It’s time to come together.
You see the devastation and despair.  While we’re carrying on with our lives  trying to find peace of mind with routines, schedules and more to-do lists, we miss the opportunity to reckon. We overlook the ruin of others’ lives thinking that there are no consequences. The gravity of the physical destruction, the significant loss of lives has its effects. Our response or lack thereof will have an impact.  Consider the call for compassion
“ the ability to ‘feel with’ the other, is now essential—not only for the integrity of the religious enterprise, but for a healthy economy and the survival of our species”   

                                                                        —Karen Armstrong, The Charter for Compassion
Compassion should be our response for the relief of pain and suffering.

The turn of the economy and high rates of unemployment are having an impact  on many low- and moderate- income families are seeking unprecedented support from federal and state programs like Medicaid.  Kaiser Family Foundation just released the results of an independent survey revealing 60% Americans want to sustain Medicaid with funding and policies in place to guarantee coverage as well as set guidelines for benefits and eligibility, perhaps a sign of compassion.

We're all vulnerable especially during times of illness even with insurance some individuals require Medicaid to meet gaps in coverage.  Dr. Atul Gawande tweets about these results with some surprise.  I know that the sicker (and the poorer) you are the more likely you are to need Medicaid.  The high cost of treatment and specialists make Medicaid all the more relevant for access to health care.

Kaiser results indicate that "Americans have a strong attachment to Medicaid" with about half self-reporting that someone in their lives if not themselves has received Medicaid benefit --  69 million people will be covered by Medicaid this year.  Most Americans see Medicaid as a resource they would use if needed.

This weekend we’ll remember loved ones and honorable lives.  Families will come together.  Stories and sermons of hope and faith will be told to bring us closer.  Plan to offer and/or accept the invitation for healing and love.
Need help?  Click here to download the Charter for Compassion.

May 16, 2011

Our world and families in the days ahead

Today in America you have a 50% chance of living beyond 100 years. Those who are aging and living well make this mark with survival stories of resiliency by allowing the power of hopefulness to help them with setbacks in life, they overcome stress with success.  Another  key is having a network of care and love from families, friends and supportive communities. We need our families and beloved communities for long and healthy lives.
The United Nations set May 15, 2011 for the observance of the International Day of Families with a theme of "Confronting Family Poverty and Social Exclusion." It’s a call to recognize that families around the world are vulnerable especially given the persistence of violence, poverty and the uprising of natural disasters in an already unstable and unbalanced climate.  From my view convening a global or national dialogue on family requires a look beyond strategies of war, approaches to economic market stability or business as usual in search of policies and practices that mobilize resources to value, connect, unify and empower communities and families who are interconnected by blood lines across generations and living together, in close proximity through relationships and/or sharing physical location.  What’s the challenge?

“Social exclusion is often at the root of the problem. Discrimination and unequal access to social services deprive families of the opportunity to plan a better future for their children. Certain types of families are at particular risk, including large families, single-parent families, families where the main breadwinners are unemployed or suffer from illness or disability, families with members who suffer discrimination based on sexual orientation, and families living in urban slums or rural areas. Indigenous and migrant families, as well as those living through conflict or unrest, are also on the front lines of marginalization and deprivation.”  
Secretary-General's Message for 2011

The aftermath of earthquakes in Haiti and Japan show people struggling to find their children and other family members.  In Haiti the rising levels of cholera puts families and communities at risk for illness that without access to clean drinking water, nutrition and health care increases preventable deaths. In a technology meets volunteerism equals innovation, crisis mapping has helped bring response teams with resources to critical areas of the world.  A website and portal helps users “call for help” using mobile devices via email, sms and tweets to map locations of distress based.  Many countries like Hait don't have a 911 response system. Volunteers around the world have helped to develop the sophisticated system using Facebook, Twitter and Google maps with people on the ground to reconnect some children and families when geography seemed to be an impossible barrier. A vivid example showing the power and possibility of connection, for families around the world.

The recent devastation of tornadoes and floods in southern and mid-western parts of the United States have left many families homeless, disconnected and grieving the loss of loved ones.  Who will help them heal?  In her book, The Warmth of Other Suns” author Isabell Wilkerson tells the migration stories and now more so the return of African American families to their southern roots, which perhaps still remains tied to the search for relief from discrimination and racism. Yet, remarkable and significant progress has led to stunning diversity in America visible in neighborhoods, schools and the workplace, but also shows clear evidence of inequity at the cost of lives, comprising health and society. Here we have to continue the dialogue to realize for better outcomes for the future.

What can we do to strengthen our families?  We can take on acts of empathy, compassion and love without delay.

May 06, 2011

A matter of healing and health: our segregation dilemma

After withstanding the longest filibuster in history, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law on May 6, 1960 paving the way for much stronger legislation includig the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. You can see here progress as an iterative process requiring time and tenacity. Justice is slow, but steady.  The 1964 civil rights laws declared hospital segregation illegal.
Yet, the persistence of racial residential segregation continues to drive disparities in health. [1] Social factors in local settings result in variations of population health across communities. [2,3] The segregation dilemma among African Americans is distinctive because other minority groups have not lived within the historical context of the African American population, our closet kin are Native Americans. The landscape of America is changing rapidly with increasing Latin and Asian populations revealing a new story of complexity.

In growing numbers, people of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds are coexisting in communities, workplace settings, schools, playgrounds. While religious and faith centers remain some of the most segregated places in America. A few weeks ago a provocative talk considering “Race and Racism in America: Are We A Color Blind Society?” hosted by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation offered some insight into the practice of engaging into this challenging dialogue. For example, while 50% of African Americans have dated across racial lines, 98% of African Americans have experienced have first-hand experiences with discrimination. Discussions about bias, stereotyping and discriminatory practices do help to improve attitudes as well as behaviors. Silence may perpetuate pain and suffering.  Race is an illusion discounted by the the science of human biology and modern genetics, but race is a social reality. A Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies report indicates racial inequalities in health care access and quality added more than $50 billion a year to direct U.S health care costs from 2003 to 2006. In Seeing Patients: Unconscious Bias in Health Care physician-educator Augustus White offers that the Unequal Treatment report “shocked the medical world into recognition of what was going on with racial and other prejudices.” [4,5]   Deeply rooted health care disparities are entangled in the larger story in our society.  
“Housing policy is health policy. Educational policy is health policy. Antiviolence policy is health policy. Neighborhood improvement policies are health policies. Everything that we can do to improve the quality of life of individuals in our society has an impact on their health and is a health policy.”  
                                                                                   —David R. Williams, UNNATURAL CAUSES

The public conversation continues next week with a meeting offered via webcast on “America Healing” including Florence & Laura Norman Professor of Public Health, Harvard University sociologist David R. Williams. These professional meetings push beyond anecdotes so that the evidence of disparities can be seen and addressed.  In considering "What determines health?" and the social factors related to healthier lives, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will also host a webinar on “Place and Health: Why Conditions Where We Live, Learn, Work and Play Matter” and the chat continues via Twitter hashtag #healthissocial with an expert panel.[6] These are open-door meetings, offering virtual presence attendance. We all need to consider new possibilities for healing and health in our lives.  Join the conversation.


  1. Kramer MR, Hogue CR. Is segregation bad for your health? Epidemiol Rev 2009;31(1):178 –94. 
  2. Miller DM, Pollack CE, Williams DR. Healthy homes and communities: putting the pieces together.  Am J Prev Med 2011;40(1S1):S48–S57. 
  3. Williams DR, Collins C. Racial residential segregation: a fundamental cause of racial disparities in health. Public Health Rep 2001;116(5): 404 –16.
  4. White AA, Chanoff D. Seeing Patients: Unconscious Bias in Health Care. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.
  5. Smedley B, Stith A, Nelson A, eds., Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care. Washington,DC: Institute of Medicine, The National Academies Press, 2003.
  6. Lavizzo-Mourey R, Williams DR. Strong medicine for a healthier America: introduction. Am J Prev Med 2011;40(1S1):S1–S3. 

    May 02, 2011

    The day our world changed

    It’s a day when many Americans have gone back in time to revisit September 11, 2011, some are recounting the loss of loved ones, more are connecting their memories and feelings then to this day, emotions are soaring all across America.  There’s a sense of relief, victory, applaud for success in leadership by President Obama.   
    Last night, Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden was killed in an act for justice to restore hope, security and the promise of our future.

    Let there be healing.