“The best medical service in the world”

“I had thought, like most Americans think even today, that America has the best medical profession, the best medical service in the world. And I guess it’s true, perhaps, that for people at the top, American medicine is as good or better than anywhere in the world...But the reality for the majority was clear. They could see the [h]ospital with their own eyes, looking out the front door of their own house, yet they couldn’t get a doctor.”
Sargent Shriver |New Orleans, LA| October 21, 1974

Our Quote of the Week highlights how economic disparities combined with the limitations of our for-profit health care system impact millions of Americans. Sargent Shriver’s observations about the importance of accessible health care for all are particularly relevant now, as the coronavirus ravages our communities, and puts the many who are struggling economically at risk of not being able to get medical treatment.

This week’s quote is from Sargent Shriver’s 1974 Address Evaluating the War on Poverty to the American Public Health Association. The speech gives us insight into Sargent Shriver’s process as he constructed the programs of the War on Poverty. He admits that when he was designing programs, he looked at services that could support Americans through different phases of life and work, "[b]ut there was nothing specifically about health.” He continues: "[T]hank God we did have eyes and we did have ears, so we could see and we could listen to the poor who came into the Job Corps and into the Neighborhood Youth Corps, etc., and what did we find? We found out right away that for the customers, for the consumers, for the poor, health was a matter of primary importance.” To address this gap among the programs, he introduced Neighborhood Health Centers (which today operate as the National Association of Community Health Centers). These centers provide medical services to citizens regardless of their economic status.

As we continue to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and we get closer to the 2020 Presidential election, we are taking to heart the words that Sargent Shriver spoke in this thought-provoking address. Calling for nothing short of a revolution in the way we deliver health care to citizens, he says: “We certainly can’t be a nation half healthy and half sick. We need leadership to change the topography, if you will, of the American medical system.”

We are undoubtedly in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, but as we move through it, we are also in a position of creating a precious opportunity: that of finally tearing down the obstacles that prevent tens of millions of Americans from being able to access health care without worrying about cost.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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