Local government should address disparities in health, healthcare

Income gaps continue to widen and health disparities put families with low socioeconomic status in great danger. As we have seen over the past two decades, the political tide has exacerbated rather than repaired it. Therefore, local governments should partner with community organizations to address health disparities caused by socioeconomic barriers.

I wake up in Naples, Florida. I get ready for my day, get in the car and drive to work. On the way, a driver hits me in the back at a red light. I feel pretty good, but my head hurts really badly; I should go see my doctor. I exchange information with the driver who did not speak English so we spoke in Spanish. He apologizes profusely and says he would do whatever needs to be done. We go our separate ways and I go for a quick check-up with my doctor, who says I had a slight concussion.

The driver had been up all night working for his second job in Immokalee, Florida, just 15 miles from where I live in Naples. He was on his way to his day job when he fell asleep at the wheel and bumped into me. Subsequently, he had an excruciating headache but could not make it to the hospital without his English speaking son, who had work. The first time the two were free was a week later, but it was too late. He had an undiscovered risk of a cerebral hemorrhage which the concussion made worse.

Although this scenario is fictitious, similar situations occur on a daily basis. Why was the driver not aware of this condition? Across America, growing wealth gaps have led to massive disparities in health and healthcare. Numerous case studies have shown that low socioeconomic status is directly correlated with lack of health care, well-being problems and increased risk factors. The driver, who could not afford insurance, Medicaid, or any private health care, was never given the opportunity to have routine checkups and health tests. If he had had access, he might have known that the concussions were life threatening.

Nicolas Diamant

How can problems like this, which occur daily, be solved when obscured in the news by NFTs and political blunders? The answer lies at the local level, where county and city governments can solve the problem slowly but effectively. Recently, studies have been carried out to analyze the effectiveness of local government projects, initiatives and grants in addressing health disparities. Those who thrive look outside the city hall walls, connecting and associating with members of the community. These partnerships offer a solution to fight against health disparities caused by socio-economic barriers.

One of the reasons to support partnerships is that local governments can create programs that influence health disparities more directly than the federal government. At the federal level, increasing health care and reducing the wealth gap have consistently failed. Due to the two-party system, there has been little compromise, and what is done by one party is then abrogated by the other. According to a Commonwealth Fund study, the recent health care law has resulted in disparities in coverage and access due to federalist structures. The tide must change, but the current forces of change are clearly having no effect.

Another reason is that localized community efforts to address issues arising from socio-economic gaps have been quite effective in some cities and counties. In Naples, many efforts have been led by the local government in coordination with community organizations. Partnerships with non-profit organizations such as the Health Care Network and Neighborhood Health Clinic with the local government of Immokalee have steadily improved access to affordable health care. The first established the Nichols Community Health Center, which provides a variety of services to over 36,000 people. During COVID-19, the local government partnered with the health care network for a multilingual response team for the poor in Immokalee, and they also brought in Doctors Without Borders. Additionally, a partnership with Project Blue Zones created a countywide wellness awareness initiative.

Some would argue that local governments should work alone in their efforts instead of spending money on bringing in third parties. A proponent of this position would say that it is not rational from a taxpayer’s perspective to invest money in government spending without the results promised by nonprofits and community organizations. However, as we have seen in recent years, efforts without private partnerships have failed compared to those with them. In Philadelphia, government plans for months, years, and even decades have all failed, increasing obesity rates and decreasing access to health care for those of low socioeconomic status. Meanwhile, new partnerships with local nonprofits and community organizations, such as in Naples, have shown positive progress.

Why waste time funding political candidates who have virtually no effect on such important issues? Find your region. Donate to local associations. Elect an effective local council and commissioners. Find ways to help. Every extra helping hand in tackling the gap saves lives and gives everyone an equal chance for success, well-being and longevity.

Nick Diamond was born and raised in Southwest Florida, attending the Naples Community School from Kindergarten to Grade 12. He is studying finance and public policy at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote this Op-Ed during his first year writing class.