Six speakers, including President Clancy, took the stage at the Helmerich Center for American Research to discuss healthcare.
The University of Tulsa hosted “The Roots of America’s Health Continental Divide,” a speaking event, last Tuesday. It occurred within the Helmerich Center for American Research at the Gilcrease Museum (technically still on the university campus). The event was put on by Dr. Jeffrey Alderman to highlight and coincide with the goals of the Institute for Health Care Delivery Sciences. It worked to “collaborate with non-traditional academic disciplines when solving health care problems, including engineering, law, business, computer science, informatics, sociology, humanities and history.”
That goal lined up with the faculty members who were selected to make presentations about how their studies correlate to the problems they see with healthcare that we currently encounter on a local scale all the way up to the national and even supranational.
Dr. Alderman made a short introduction, citing questions that many people have about health care in the present.
“Why is it that my bills are so large? Why do I not get enough time with doctors, nurse practitioners and nurses?” he asked in example before turning to the night’s speakers.
The first speaker was University president Dr. Gerard Clancy, who tackled the issue from the perspective of a medical doctor. He emphasized the importance of what he called “man-made borders” and how they cause “man-made disasters.” He cited health disparities on either side of the border of Northern Ireland and Ireland, the border of the United States and Mexico and a third border, one which is seldom considered, the Mason-Dixon line. Clancy also spoke about how human failures in response to natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, can lead to massive disparities in health outcomes between different areas of cities like New Orleans.
The next speaker was Dr. Kirsten Oertel, head of the history department. Her talk focused on how inherent differences in the economies and societies of the North and the South led to different health outcomes for civilians and soldiers of the Civil War up to the present day. She talked about how veterans of the Union army receive free healthcare from the federal government up until WWI, while Confederate veterans had to take care of themselves as best they could. The people in the South had fears that giving free care to veterans would create a dependency problem. People everywhere feared that giving any aid to the newly freed African American slaves would cause them to become dependent on that aid. She stressed that these ideas have not exactly disappeared from the political discourse.
Following her was Matt Lamkin, an Associate Professor of Law. His major point was that “we seem to have reinforced the idea that health and medicine are synonymous, but that is not true.” He said that the word “healthcare” has a connotation of being only medicine, but there are plenty of things that people can and should do to maintain their health which have nothing to do with medicine. This includes exercising and eating healthy. He went on to list growing problems that have lead to decreasing health outcomes for the demographic group of white men, a historically privileged group. He states that, while the previously low health standards for Black and Hispanic people have risen steadily over the past 20 years, outcomes for white men have declined because more and more of them find themselves underemployed, incarcerated or alienated from civic society. He ended by saying that the decline in health standards are emblematic of “cultural and spiritual problems, not just medical, policy problems.”
Dr. Travis Lowe is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and his presentation focused around health outcome disparities as a function of social class.
He quipped that “our class system does more than determine who can or can’t buy a yacht.” He cited studies that confirmed that wealthy men live over five years longer than working class men on average, and among women, that gap is almost 10 years. He spoke of a need for us to “reimagine systems” throughout our society. Some examples he gave of how to make health outcomes “more fair” would be to sever the tie between employment and health insurance and to provide it to everyone with a single payer system.
Finally, the chair of the Anthropology department, Dr. Peter Stromberg, spoke about how humans are unique among animals in our ability to create our own living environments. He posited the notion that we don’t exist separate from our environments, as our individuality might make it seem. Rather, we all exist as a part of the environment. He used examples of the Pima people of Arizona to show that many health problems can be inserted into our genetic code through the process of epigenetics, wherein certain factors in a pregnant mother’s environment can cause fetal genes to be expressed in different ways. One health concern caused by poor diet and passed down genetically is risk for type two diabetes. He stressed that because little research of this type has been done on any groups of people in Oklahoma, we have close to no understanding of how these factors can affect us.
After the presentations, Dr. Clancy opened the floor to discussion, questions and comments. In response to a question about the fear of dependency on social assistance, Dr. Oertel said that people tend to have compassion for others in need in personal situations, but some miss that when it is in the aggregate. Someone raised a question about the Gathering Place and everyone agreed that it was a great place to get exercise and build community for people who may not have any other place to go. Dr. Oertel said that her son played a lot less “Fortnite” on the opening weekend in favor of pickup basketball. Dr. Stomburg said that our problems are exacerbated by “increasing inequality, privatization and monopolization,” adding “We have taken our money out of public resources and put it into private places.”
He went on to say that “there are no easy or short-term solutions to health problems” because they have been centuries in the making.