Terrence Shirley, MPH, is the CEO of the Community Health Center Association of Mississippi.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was reported saying, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman…” at a press conference held on March 25, 1966, as part of the Medical Committee for Human Rights annual meeting in Chicago.
While innovation in medical practice and access to health care has improved since then, inequities persist. We see it in our health systems. And scientists studying health and health care have published studies to back up what we know to be true. We see it all too often in my home state where poor health outcomes and disease prevalence among African Americans is greater in comparison to non-Hispanic whites.
Our society needs to prioritize a system of health that supports human beings, no matter our race, income level, or if we live in urban or rural areas. This can be done by focusing on primary health care systems, namely the Community Health Center model.
We primary care health center leaders are persevering to address the challenges that Dr. King presented to us 57 years ago, even as new barriers arise. The health center primary care system is a solution to Dr. King’s concern – health centers address inequities and provide dignity to all who seek help.
According to the World Health Organization, “primary health care is the most inclusive, equitable, cost-effective and efficient approach to enhance people’s physical and mental health, as well as social well-being,” which are basic aspects of our humanity.
Dr. King believed health care was a right. The United States took steps to fund a primary health care system 50 years ago. The Health Center Movement laid the foundation for a health care system so everyone could exercise their right to access health care no matter insurance status or ability to pay. Health centers provide equal opportunity for all to pursue their best and healthiest life possible.
Education remains key in our fight for justice in health care and in pursuit of the fundamental rights afforded to all. We must not let selective history be removed or rewritten from academic institutions that will continue to foster any form of oppression, regardless of race, creed, religion, or sexual orientation. We will all lose if we do not stand up with strong words and actions like Dr. King did. We must not be afraid.
My challenge to health care leaders is that we must continue to educate new generations of policy makers and residents of our country about health centers and the role each one plays in their community and in our nation’s health. We must continue to aspire to overcome the injustices and inequalities of the health care system. Our humanity depends on it.