When someone mentions the word “sustainable” my mind immediately flashes to images of recyclable material, safe farming practices, and riding a bike to work. I think it is easy for people like me to assume that sustainability is all about lowering your carbon footprint or admitting that global warming is a serious threat, but my experience this summer has proved me wrong. This summer I have had the opportunity to work with AccessHealth Greenville as their Shi Center Fellow which has enabled me to better understand what it means to be sustainable. Working in the health care system, I have realized that sustainability means much more than what I have stereotyped it as. Sustainability, to me, is about living our lives in a way that is healthy for us, and healthy for both our environment and society. Healthcare plays a major role in making greater health possible.
Here are a few fast facts for you about Greenville and our population:
-Total number of uninsured adults: 73,359 (18.6% of the population of Greenville county)
-Hospitalizations per 1,000 uninsured adults: 64.4%
-Emergency Department (ED) visits per 1,000 uninsured adults: 824.4%
A startling amount of our population is uninsured. But just because these people don’t have health insurance doesn’t mean they do not have health concerns or need to see a doctor on a regular basis. They do, so to get this care they turn to the ED. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this care does not come without a hefty price tag. A high uninsured population means a high cost burden on our hospitals and the ED s with no one to front the bill. This is by no means a way to sustain our healthcare system.
Of the 70,000 residents of Greenville, SC that don’t have health insurance, about 30,000 of those are 200% below the Federal Poverty Line and by no means can afford health insurance on their own. AccessHealth Greenville works to connect the low-income, uninsured population of Greenville County to stable medical homes where they have doctors they know, and doctors who know them. Connecting those who need medical assistance to a reliable place of care reduces the rate of ED visits and lowers the cost of healthcare. Given the uncertain state of the United States healthcare plan today due to political woes in D.C., the best way for us to sustain our population is through organizations such as AccessHealth that utilize community care workers, community paramedics, and community social workers to improve the health of our COMMUNITY. A sustainable healthcare system starts at the community level where we can get to know the needs of our community and the challenges our community faces in reaching a more sustainable system.
Not only does AccessHealth do an excellent job in working to sustain our healthcare on a systematic level, it also does a great job in teaching its patients to lead sustainable lives in a way that they can afford. A large percentage of the people with whom AccessHealth works are those with chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension. These conditions can often be reversed through a healthy diet and exercise. But when you are living paycheck to paycheck, or not even receiving a paycheck, buying expensive produce and a gym membership are not top priorities. The community paramedics and social workers work with these patients to manage their health in ways that are affordable to them. Teaching the low-income, uninsured population to manage their health and diseases is an important step in making our community more sustainable and I am so thankful that I get to be a part of this movement.