For the past decade, Bronx Health REACH and its parent organization, the Institute for Family Health, have been battling the segregated system of care that persists in New York academic medical centers. In this two-tiered system, patients with Medicaid or no insurance are sent to outpatient clinics when seeking specialty care, while privately insured patients are sent to faculty practices. Bronx Health REACH has long argued that these systems are separate and unequal for a number of reasons, including poor continuity of care and afterhours access in the clinics. Our efforts have led to a civil rights complaint filed by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest with the Attorney General in 2008 and legislation introduced in the NYS legislature by Assemblyman Nelson Castro and Senator Gustavo Rivera. The most recent step forward was an especially exciting one. On May 10th, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried held a public hearing on the Health Equity Bill (A07699) and invited people to testify in support or in opposition. In an inspiring vindication of the coalition’s work for so many years, the legislators heard over and over again just how much this legislation was needed.
The hearing room at 250 Broadway in downtown Manhattan was packed with supporters of the bill, health care advocates, and Bronx Health REACH coalition members, who wore stickers proclaiming “Make Health Equality a Reality”. Out of the 21 people who testified, only one person, representing the Greater New York Hospital Association, spoke in opposition to the bill. (To hear more about the testimonies, read our press release about the hearing.) The testimonies were well-informed and moving. Physicians spoke about the importance of care continuity and the feasibility of integrating practices so that all patients are seen in the same time and in the same place. Lawyers testified on the legal implications of separating patients based on insurance and how this separation violated civil rights laws. Pastors spoke about ministering to their ever sicker congregations and their frequent hospital visits to visit infirm congregants. And in perhaps one of the most dramatic moments of the day, one Bronx resident speaking about his personal experience accessing health care with Medicaid, gestured behind him to 15 members of his church who rose to stand with him and demand equal access. The testimonies and stories were diverse, but they had a common theme: all people should receive the same quality health care.
For a community-based coalition such as Bronx Health REACH the hearing held particular importance. The opportunity to stand up and demand change from legislators is an empowering one and Bronx Health REACH was especially grateful to be able to share that experience with its partners and coalition members. Though the coalition is ever moving forward, it’s important to stop and celebrate victories, of whatever size, when they occur and we’re glad that we are able to celebrate this one.