What does health mean to you?
For this patient, health meant being able to provide for his family, be the man of the house, the breadwinner, strong and able as he had been for so many people since he was fourteen years old.
But his pain, so severe and constant, no longer allowed him to be healthy.
This pain extended farther than his lumbar region, it had gotten the best of him.
Our patient, whose one-on-one therapy sessions have made me think so deeply ever since we began, was suffering from a deep depression- a depression so severe that it was taking his vitality away, and that seemed to stem from the loss of the identity he wore so proudly since he was a young man.
You see, depression comes from somewhere, but is neither motionless nor stagnant, it does something to you, it’s like a silent killer.
And to him, it was making his physical condition worse and putting his state of mind on the verge of despair.
While interning at the Lehigh Valley Super Ulitilizer Partnership conducted by the Neighborhood Health Centers of the Lehigh Valley (NHCLV) this past summer, I never thought I would learn so much about what it really means to be healthy.
Health, to many, is lacking those aches and pains, or symptoms related to illness, which are intrinsically associated with sick people, but physical health is just one form.
I learned that it takes the continuous nourishment of your body, mind and spirit to acquire true health.
While spending time with this patient, hearing his stories, and the countless others, I started to realize how abstract and disconnected medicine has become, and how a place like NHCLV is returning to the roots, the essence, spirit, or whatever you want to call it, of what it really means to be healthy.
This federally qualified health center is striving to address and serve the underrepresented poor, undocumented, uninsured and underserved communities of the Lehigh Valley. It has taken a stance to do things a little different.
A stance away from the mass producing, and profit-oriented current health care system, and towards a relationship and patient-centered, community-driven, and trauma-informed type of care needed to nourish all aspects of life.
This alternative approach to medicine began while Dr. Jeff Brenner of Camden, N.J. came across Superutilizers as he dug deeper into the social barriers that create hotspots of high emergency room utilization within poor communities.
What he found was something crazy.
Similar to New Jersey, “Medicaid consumes over 31 percent of Pennsylvania’s annual budget, providing services for approximately 17 percent of its residents, roughly 2.2 million individuals” (About LVSUP).
What that means is a small amount of people—often the undocumented, poor, or uninsured— are spending almost a third of the annual Pennsylvania budget just in medical needs.
What it comes down to is that for that 87 percent of Pennsylvanians our current health care system works, because they can afford it, because they have fewer social barriers, because they have access and political influence.
But what about the rest?
Does that remaining 17 percent of people not deserve a healthy lifestyle?
Are they not worthy of living just as well as you and I do?
These variables often lead to superutilization of emergency rooms, yet these questions remain unanswered.
Juan Carmona is a student majoring in pre-med. He can be reached at JC841951@wcupa.edu.