Our Quote of the Week is from a fiery speech to the American Public Health Association, in which Sargent Shriver discusses the importance of making health care available to all citizens, particularly those in poverty. We invite you to read the speech; Sarge's lessons from the War on Poverty, and his insights for creating a health care system for all, continue to be relevant today and make for compelling reading. Not only does he recount poignant stories from the field, but he also shares innovative new ideas for providing health services in under-served neighborhoods. He then discusses the creation of a “National Health Insurance Law” that would, in his words, “remove all financial barriers to heath care in this country.”
Some words about health care and the War on Poverty: during Sargent Shriver’s tenure as the Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO, the administrative office of the War on Poverty), he oversaw the creation of several Neighborhood Health Centers. You can read about a couple of them in this week’s speech, and you can also read his dedication at the 1967 opening of a health center in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Today, the individual agencies born out of the War on Poverty, including Community Action and Head Start, provide some health services to their communities. And the contemporary version of Sarge's health centers, the “Comprehensive Health Centers,” continue to operate. According to researcher Daniel Zwick, the centers currently serve one in 10 children, one in three people living below the federal poverty line, and one in six people living in rural areas.
It’s notable that Sarge shared his bold thinking on this issue in 1974, ten years after the start of the War on Poverty, but in anticipation of the efforts of his brother-in-law, Ted Kennedy, and of President Barack Obama, to make health insurance more accessible. To date, the culmination of the work in this area was the passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010. However, there is certainly more that we can do to bring health care to all, and Sargent Shriver’s thought-provoking words on this topic are worth exploring as we enter 2019.
Are you a health care professional who works in an organization that provides community health services? If so, let us know! We know we haven’t even scratched the surface of the health care issue, and we’d love to hear about your experiences.