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Helping all find way to health is proper mission for Amherst

How to best provide healthcare for its own citizens is the critical conversation in Amherst, just as it is in our nation. As nurses, we share the vision of a healthy community that Fannie Ward Bangs likely had when she endowed the fund for a hospital in Amherst.

With health care moving out of hospitals and into our communities we recognize the acute need for services that prevent illnesses and improve quality of life. Consider the example of our neighbor, “Bob,” who is a 50-year-old man who has Type 2 diabetes.

Due to his mental health problems he is uninsured intermittently throughout the year. During these times he cannot fill his prescriptions for medications which precipitates a health crisis and he ends up in the emergency room.

We all know others in similar situations — low-wage employment or unemployment, lack of access to reliable transportation, poor nutritional options and inadequate social support. These inequities lead to chronically ill individuals and the problematic pattern of costly local and national healthcare misuse. We see the proposed health center conversation as evidence of a need and desire for better health care for all community members.

“A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being” is how the World Health Organization defines health. When we place value on the greater good of the community over the concerns of individuals we will see better health outcomes for all.

Despite the recent opening of the health care exchanges modeled on the Massachusetts health insurance legislation, there are more than 7,000 Amherst residents who are uninsured and struggling to obtain basic healthcare. Accessible community health centers are one part of a solution. By increasing access to healthcare services we help create a strong and vibrant town, where each person’s well-being contributes to our collective well-being.

Now, the Bangs Center offers easily accessible services that have been developed for a group historically marginalized — our elderly. The senior center exemplifies how to provide essential health and wellness care under one roof. A community health center can be modeled after the success of the senior center.

We propose that rather than viewing ourselves as on opposite sides of a divide, we engage in what we bring to each other as we have already demonstrated by the success of the Amherst Survival Center, overnight shelters and soup kitchens. These services are key evidence of the moral commitment of caring for one another in this vibrant community of Amherst.

On an even broader scale, one can look at this dialogue in Amherst as a microcosm of the health care debate in our country.

As imperfect as it is, the recent attempt to make our nation’s health care more equitable is a move in the right direction. Providing a local site for our citizens who lack adequate insurance is our opportunity to model care for the health of a community as we strive toward the same for our nation.

It is a model which should be based on the ethical and moral principle of justice — the human right of access to healthcare for all.

Genevieve E. Chandler is an associate professor with the University of Massachusetts College of Nursing. Olga Ehrlich is a Ph.D. nursing student at UMass. Also contributing to this guest column were nursing doctoral students Jalil Johnson, Johann Kolodziej and Maud Low.

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