March 7, 2003

Vanderbilt community joins national effort to aid uninsured

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Vanderbilt community joins national effort to aid uninsured

The Vanderbilt community is teaming with a diverse group of organizations around Nashville to support a nationwide event to raise awareness and offer assistance for the thousands of Tennesseans without health insurance.

The event is called Cover the Uninsured Week, and is spearheaded out of Washington, D.C., and co-chaired by former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. The weeklong series of events, open to the public, will be held March 10-16 in communities across the country, and on the Vanderbilt campus.

Activities begin in Nashville with a Town Hall meeting at the Compton-Nelson Auditorium at Meharry Medical College on Saturday, March 8 at 1 p.m. Congressman Jim Cooper, Tony Garr from Tennessee Health Care Campaign, Roxanne Spitzer, Ph.D., from Nashville General Hospital at Meharry, and Bill Young from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee round out the panel of experts for the afternoon discussion. VUMC’s Bill Snyder from News and Public Affairs will moderate the event.

On Campus Day will be held at Loews Vanderbilt Plaza on Tuesday. The discussion, moderated by Vanderbilt’s John Seigenthaler, will be based on “The Moral and Economic Consequences of the Uninsured: The Challenge for Today and Tomorrow’s Healthcare Leaders.”

The forum kicks off at 4 p.m. with a keynote address from Boone Powell, retired CEO of Baylor Health Systems, followed by a panel discussion with Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice chancellor for Health Affairs; Larry Churchill, Ph.D., Ann Geddes Stahlman Professor of Medical Ethics; Dr. Stephanie Bailey, Metro Public Health Department; and Dr. Thomas Frist Jr., of HCA Inc.

Cover the Uninsured Week moves to Knowles Senior Center near the Tennessee State Fairgrounds on Wednesday, where dozens of local organizations will be working to provide health screenings and preventive health education to uninsured community members.

Vanderbilt School of Nursing students will offer blood pressure screenings, Vanderbilt University Medical Center is providing general health care information packets, along side other local groups including Bridges to Care, the Tennessee Nurses Association, Success by Six, the American Cancer Society, the Tennessee Primary Care Association, and several others. The health fair will be held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Friday’s Interfaith Prayer Breakfast rounds out the week of events scheduled in Nashville, with representatives of all faiths coming together to discuss a “Common Covenant for Care.”

“For such diverse groups to rally around this single issue makes clear both its urgency for every sector of American society and in our community,” said Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., dean of the Vanderbilt School of Nursing. “This is critical because many Americans without health insurance have no other option than to utilize emergency rooms, often when they are sicker and treatment is more expensive. This is also no way to address their needs for other non-emergency health care services.”

Recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics show more than 41 million Americans were uninsured in 2001, up 1.4 million from the previous year. The jump is the largest single-year increase in more than a decade, and 8 million of those uninsured are children. Organizers say those numbers are likely still rising, due to a sluggish economy and rising health care costs.

Being uninsured is not just a problem for the unemployed. Eight out of 10 uninsured Americans are in working families. Either their jobs don’t provide health coverage, or given their modest salaries and the high cost of health coverage, they simply cannot afford it. These are people who cannot afford private health insurance on their own, and are not eligible for public programs.

Studies show the uninsured are sicker and die younger as a result. Uninsured women with breast cancer are twice as likely to die as insured women with breast cancer. The uninsured are four times more likely to experience an avoidable hospital stay or visit to the emergency room. And experts say medical bills remain a leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States, causing one out of every two personal bankruptcy filings.

“All of us – health care leaders, elected officials, universities, business and labor groups, faith communities – need to work together to help every member of our community understand the plight of those who go without health coverage of any kind,” said Tony Garr, executive director of the Tennessee Health Care Campaign. “The week provides opportunities for people from all walks of life and every point of view to come together to increase the visibility of the problem, help their uninsured neighbors and begin a reasoned public discussion of proposed solutions to this problem.”

Cover the Uninsured Week is funded primarily by The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a national foundation focused on building the capacity of individuals, communities, and institutions to solve their own problems; and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans. The California Endowment and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation are also providing significant funds for events throughout the nation.

For more information on the events at Vanderbilt and around Nashville call Michael Gass at (615) 401-7404, or visit the national Web site at: