Our Quote of the Week reminds us of a basic but critical pitfall of American health care: that it is unaffordable for millions of people and exacerbates poverty in the United States.
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 would best 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 live with the risks and uncertainty of COVID-19 and struggle with other public health crises from mental health to gun violence, 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, Shriver said: "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." Let us support leaders who understand the role that policy plays in maintaining a healthy society and who have the courage to implement such policies.