By Paul Smart
Consider the healthcare needs any of us can face in a month. We catch a cold that includes an endless cough; after several weeks some form of antibiotics are called for. One of our family is diabetic. Kids need check-ups. The dog’s barfing and the cats seem to have found a nest of fleas. One of our parents is entering hospice and needs care, but is living half a continent away. Our glasses aren’t working as well as they once did and we’re suspecting they have something to do with an increasing amount of headaches. A friend has had a fall that sounds funny in the telling, but requires surgery and a lot of help for her to keep up. We’ve got toothaches we’re downplaying. Plus flu season’s approaching.
And we’re not even in the serious leagues regarding our greater communities’ health care needs, let alone those facing the most afflicted among us.
How to handle such a robust array of challenges, both personally and from a community perspective?
Thank heavens that here in the community-minded Hudson Valley, it’s a great time to be considering such questions, what with the annual O+ Festival happening this month, along with regular free healthcare clinics in the Rondout Valley and other locales, as well as a long history of strong attempts to tackle the complexities of modern healthcare by not only meeting its rising costs, but shifting the way we consider our health in general.
Joe Concra, who started thinking of what would become O+ by simply finding a dentist to clean a band’s teeth, says it’s always good to start by teaching people where the access points for healthcare exist in a community. That means bringing the various array of helpful organizations in a community out for an open expo, doing a bit of active training, and having navigators on hand to demonstrate how one can get the sort of help the Affordable Care Act’s made available over the past nine years, as well as our state’s various programs.
He points out how there are key organizations communities can depend on, such as the Institute for Family Health, or a growing number of clinics that utilize sliding scale payment plans to make one’s health not only betterable, but affordable too.
“You have to really care about care, as we do at O+,” Concra said during the busy weeks ahead of the latest iteration of the big festival’s annual landing throughout Kingston. “We try to stay away from the political side of things… although we do hope for that time where some form of universal healthcare will come along and make what we do obsolete.”
What are the philosophic precepts behind community healthcare as practiced by local festivals, the free Rondout Valley Holistic Healthcare events each month, and a growing number of other such efforts around the Hudson Valley and beyond?
Concra said that “It all looks back to being as local as you can be, talking to one’s neighbors, reaching out to everybody.” But then he pulled back from any deep discussion about the effects gentrification can have on larger communities, with some elements slipping from view, by noting only that “gentrification is capitalism; it is not about art or artists.”
We considered these elements that complicate the idealism of community action beyond those willing to get involved, as well as for thinking about healthcare philosophies without entertaining political concerns. Are such things still possible as the cost of said care keeps rising in answer to all our ailments, including the once-natural idea of aging and mortality?
Turning towards the way our greatest thinkers have looked at the health of humanity from Hippocrates on, we found a basic lists of concerns (at least according to Wikepedia): Who requires and/or deserves healthcare? Is healthcare a fundamental right of all people? What should be the basis for calculating the cost of treatments, hospital stays, drugs, etc.? How can healthcare best be administered to the greatest number of people? Who, if anybody, can decide when a patient is in need of “comfort measures” (allowing a natural death by providing medications to treat symptoms related to the patient’s illness)?
Of course, all such weighty concerns come with a simple danger: that one can get lost looking at the big picture, as Joe Concra found when he and a number of like-minded artistic souls, founded O+.
But then there’s the underlying question, which many find the most important of all: What is health? Is it something quantifiable, that one can afford or not? Is it a community’s concern, or solely that of individuals.
Looking at 20- and 30-year old battles over the creation of a Patient’s Bill of Rights — which passed the U.S. Senate in the form of a bill written by Ted Kennedy and John McCain on largely partisan terms, but failed to make it into law — as well as more contemporary fights over public versus private ways of looking at health, it seems that at least in our nation, we can’t get beyond the philosophy of autonomy into considerations of shared experience or, even more importantly, sharing.
Which could leave us all with nothing but the hyperlocal as a means of conscientiously approaching our community healthcare concerns were it not for a Zulu term popularized by the late Nelson Mandala and surviving Desmond Tutu.
“There is a word in South Africa – Ubuntu – a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us,” is how President Barack Obama put this concept while speaking at the South African leader’s funeral five years ago.
“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed,” was how Tutu put it. “Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
Talk about that concept behind what we’re working on in the Hudson Valley, behind the bigger idea of a “universal” form of health, and healthcare.
Talk about health as something we all share, such as challenges, or die from, lacking true community remedies.