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Disrupting health disparities can make a difference in people’s lives

Posted on 10/08/18

It was one of those times while working at AARP that made me feel we really had a chance to make a difference.

Everyone who has been here any length of time knows what I’m talking about.

AARP Michigan and a host of partners put nine months into a study of disparities in the state’s health care system. Our findings and calls to action were released in a report on Oct. 2 at an event attended by more than 200 of our closest friends.

Read the full report here: AARP Michigan Report: Disrupting Disparities

We found the system is loaded with disparities related to race, geography and income. There aren’t enough home and community-based services in the state to reach many of those who need them most, or to keep people at home where they prefer to be. People who live alone off a gravel road in the Upper Peninsula, chances are they don’t have broadband. So forget about telemedicine, which these folks probably need more than people downstate, who live around the corner from their doctor. And, by the way, unpaid caregivers are the backbone of our long-term care system. They need help, they need relief, and they need it now.

It’s not surprising that we found there are health inequalities and imbalances in Michigan. No doubt similar issues exist in other states. But no one here had previously taken the time to gather all the research together in one place, analyze where the flash points are and draw up an action plan to make things right.

Of course, it’s not really about the report. It’s about that 85-year-old lady in Ishpeming who has no family around to help her get to her doctor’s appointment. It’s about the 61-year-old man in Saginaw who can’t afford the medicine and supplies to treat his diabetes. It’s about the 72-year-old grandfather in Detroit with high blood pressure who doesn’t have the technical know-how to take advantage of telehealth monitoring that can help him get well. It’s about the 55-year-old family caregiver in Belleville whose mom died partly because she wasn’t given adequate instructions to administer medication at home.

It’s about every Michigander whose address determines their access to quality health care and whose racial identity or economic status has determined who advocates for them.

The 28-page report called “Disrupting Disparities: The Continuum of Care for Michiganders 50 and Older” is chocked full of words, graphics and numbers. But here’s a number that jumps off the page and should make every single one of us responsible for demanding change: Eliminating racial disparities in health care could save 140,000 life years in the state.

That breaks my heart. That’s 140,000 years of seeing children and grandchildren grow up, of going to dance recitals and soccer games, of strolling down a Lake Michigan beach, seeing a great movie, or reading a book to little ones as they curl up in grandpa’s lap.

If this report helps change any of that, then we know we will have made a difference, where it matters most: in the lives of people!

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