Holistic healthcare stressed at conference
by Courtney Warren
Mar 20, 2014 | 2098 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
During the Winning the Race Conference at the BPAC there were several lunch and learns, one of which was "Healthcare challenges and disparities in the Mississippi Delta."

The panel consisted of several members of the nursing and healthcare management faculty as well as John Dittmer.

Dittmer is an award winning author, professor emeritus of history at DePauw University, and a nationally recognized authority on the Civil Rights Movement. From 1967-1979, he taught history at Tougaloo College in Mississippi.

"I asked to be a part of this panel as a special request because this has been a particular interest of mine. In 1964, the freedom summer 50 years ago, a group of healthcare professionals from New York came down to Mississippi to assist with the Civil Rights Movement. Thousands came down because people needed help; they came down for the summer, they took care of civil rights workers, but what they realized was that the black population of Mississippi was underserved medically to say the least.

“Many people had never seen a physician. Among these people was H. Jack Geiger who is a very important person in this story. Geiger came down with the doctors, saw the problem here, and got money for a small health clinic in the Mississippi Delta doing diagnostic and acute care," said Dittmer.

Dittmer said that fall a group of people, including Geiger, met in Greenville to discuss what to do in regards to the healthcare problems in Mississippi.

Geiger had spent time in South Africa and saw a clinic by Drs. Sidney and Emily Kark who were giving community-oriented primary care.

Staff members collected information about health problems and make comprehensive plans of attack and once Geiger remembered this Dittmer said, "He had an epiphany of sorts."

Through this, Geiger persuaded different agencies and universities to create health centers, one of which was in Mound Bayou.

During the forming of these clinics sharecroppers were being replaced by machines.

"Without jobs blacks had little access to healthcare and in such an environment one had to choose between food, rent and medicine; good health was almost impossible," said Dittmer.

Tufts-Delta Health Center opened its doors in 1967 and it was there Geiger prescribed food to patients.

"When some government bureaucrats objected to this unorthodox procedure, the physician responded 'the last time I looked in the book the specific therapy for malnutrition was food,'" explained Dittmer.

From there the panel launched into a discussion about the time and effort it will take to better healthcare in the Mississippi Delta.

One of those factors was stressed the most — time.

Shelby Polk, a nurse practitioner and assistant professor of nursing at DSU, said it was very important for nurses to spend time with patients learning their value systems and understanding how those beliefs will effect how a patient takes care of their body.

"Professionals need to know what matters to the patients but also expect the patients to be accountable for their health. We need to be proactive rather than reactive," said Polk.

Polk continued on to discuss the importance of health literacy. While many patients may sit in the office and say they understand a diagnosis or understand directions given to them by a doctor, they may not fully comprehend what measures need to be taken.

Polk gave the example of salt intake, while a doctor may tell a person they are experiencing hypertension and need to decrease their salt intake, that person may not realize how much salt they each and how much to actually cut back.

"How we talk to patients and what we teach them is important because some many not understand the pamphlets we hand them; health literacy comes back to knowing more about the patients," she said.

When asked about the greatest emergencies Mississippi has in healthcare Dittmer added that one of the problems is resources, to which the panel discussed how many patients in the area, and a predominately black amount of patients, have more healthcare problems and struggle with preventative care in regards to screenings and check ups.

Monica Jones, a nurse practitioner and assistant professor of nursing at DSU said there are many times where a patient will borrow medications or will take a medication every other day rather than every day to make them last longer because that patient can't afford to purchase more.

Jones stressed the importance of having healthcare providers that are culturally sensitive and can meet patients at their level.

Jones explained that understanding patients eat and cook what their moms ate and cook and what their grandmothers ate and cook and while fried chicken might be something they eat five days out of the week, a healthcare providers needs to meet them on their level and suggest cutting back to three times a week rather than cut it out of their diet all together.

"We need to see patients holistically," said Jones.