Former Surgeon General advocates community health partnerships

Citing recent reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher spoke about the importance of closing the gap in health disparities as part of GHSU’s celebration of Black History Month.

“Disparities are real, and I don’t have to show you a lot of data to make that point,” Satcher told a robust audience Feb. 28 in the Lee Auditorium.

For example, an African-American baby born in America is 2.5 times more likely to die than a baby born of a racial majority, and Native Americans have the highest diabetes-related mortality rate in the nation.

Combating that disparity is the great challenge of public health practitioners, Satcher said, because health service providers have a limited impact.

“The conditions under which people are born and in which they grow, learn and work are more important for health outcomes than health care,” he said. “Does that make us less relevant? No. It means we have to be more and better team players than we have been in the past. We have to attack the social determinants of health.”

Satcher, who directs the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse College, noted that its Community Health Leader Program’s students and clinicians help bridge the gap between academia and the community.

“We need leaders who care enough, know enough, will do enough and are persistent. Ultimately, that is the only way to eliminate disparities in health care,” he said.

Satcher cited community relationships as one of health care practitioners’ biggest challenges. Currently, the health care profession does not reflect the diversity of the population.

“Our commitment to diversity should be beyond reproach,” he said, and it should show both in research and patient care.

Health care should also adapt to the community it serves. Satcher recommended that clinics and offices locate in areas of need, and that practitioners develop a team model in offices to expedite treatment.

Satcher previously served as the Assistant Secretary for Health, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Administrator of the Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

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