Chair of the Caribbean Community Consular Corps in New York, Antigua and Barbuda’s Deputy Consul General, Omyma David, has called on Caribbean American healthcare professionals to help educate nationals about their health.
“I know that many of you are already doing so, but we also need to encourage the younger healthcare professionals to join the education thrust as well,” said David in delivering the keynote address Thursday night, at the first Caribbean American Healthcare Awards gala, at Tropical Paradise Ballroom on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn.
“We recognize that there are many health challenges within our communities,” added David at the event, organized by Caribbean Life newspaper, considered the largest circulating Caribbean newspaper in the United States.
“We also recognize that we have access to the community and can mobilize them to attend an event where they can feel safe,” she continued. “However, we don’t have the technical skills to provide the health services they need.”
But the Antiguan envoy said activities, such as the annual Caribbean Health Fair in Brooklyn, “provide opportunities for our health care professionals to work together and give back a few volunteer hours of well-needed services to our community.”
David said this year’s health fair will be held on Aug. 23 in the parking lot and gym at St. Jerome Catholic Church, at the corner of Nostrand and Newkirk avenues in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.
She said, in the last two years, the CARICOM Consular Corps partnered with the Caribbean American Nurses Association (CANA) to host the Caribbean Health Fair.
Last year, David said the Caribbean American Medical and Scientific Association (CAMSA) joined the collaboration; and, this year, the Caribbean Women’s Health Association (CWHA) will be an integral part of the event.
“If you are one of those healthcare providers who found your calling and would like to participate, please speak to me afterwards,” she urged.
David said Caribbean American healthcare professionals are “especially important” to our community for two reasons.
Firstly, she said they provide “culturally-competent care to their Caribbean patients and help to ensure that services are culturally-sensitive to our community, so that health care disparities can be reduced.”
Secondly, she said research indicates that the health of immigrants to the United States worsens the longer they are here.
“How is this possible in a nation that is supposed to have the best healthcare in the world?” David asked.
She said part of the answer is that, as newcomers assimilate, “they adopt the unhealthy dietary and physical activity habits of longtime residents.”
The other reason is that quality healthcare is not accessible to everyone, “particularly those who are low-income, (have) limited English Proficient, have no health insurance and live in ‘health deserts,’” David said.
The diplomat said this inevitably results in many being forced to use emergency rooms “as a source of primary care, which is a ‘lose-lose’ situation for both the patient and the over-burdened health system.”
David said she has personally found doctor office visits to “sometimes mirror ‘speed-dating’, even if you have a good health insurance, and are able to successfully navigate the often complex healthcare system.”
She said she has heard many complain that, despite going to the same provider for a year or more, “they have yet to develop a rapport that encourages meaningful dialogue due to the rushed and impersonal nature of time spent with their doctors.
“And now that everything is online, health providers seem to spend more time looking at their computers, as they quickly type in answers to their patients’ questions, than with the people sitting across from them,” David lamented.
“This can be intimidating and isolating for anybody and might justify the claims among many Caribbean Americans that providers now are more concerned with curing disease using medication, rather than healing and preventing it in the first place,” she said.
But she added that “you, our Caribbean American healthcare professionals, represent a more caring and loving community.
“You understand your culture best,” David said. “So we are counting on you to represent us well in your respective healthcare professionals and be a voice for those who are not in a position to speak up for themselves.”
She applauded the 48 healthcare professionals honored at the event, who included doctors, dentists and nurses.
She said they “have contributed to the development of this great country as outstanding healthcare professionals,” going through a “short checklist” to prove her point.
Among the items, David said what the honorees do “doesn’t feel like work; it’s not a job, it’s a way of living.
“What you do is an extension of your beliefs and worldview,” she added. “When you embarked on this career path, you recognized that the journey will be immensely challenging at times, but you were/are willing to suffer for it.
“When engaged in tasks/activities associated with healthcare, you naturally, and often, fall ‘in flow,’ and become deeply immersed by your work that you lose track of the time,” David continued.
She referred to a recent report by the Office of New York State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, which stated that healthcare and social assistance sectors are the dominant employers in Brooklyn, with 160, 410 jobs in 2012 and accounting for one-third of all private sector jobs.
“Given the size of the Caribbean American community in Brooklyn, it is reasonable to conclude that quite a large number of our Caribbean American brothers and sisters are employed in the healthcare field, ranging from MDs (medical doctors) to home healthcare workers,” David said. “I believe that a similar conclusion can be made across most of the five boroughs.”