Last month, we introduced you to the American Academy of Social Work & Social Welfare (AASWSW)’s Grand Challenges for Social Workers. The AASWSW focuses on one Grand Challenge per month that we can tackle as social workers to help improve the world for our clients, and our society.
February’s Grand Challenge is:
February’s challenge focuses on making sure all Americans have equal access to health care. Social inequality - particularly poverty and discrimination - prevents many Americans from receiving health care that’s sufficient for their needs.
AASWSW estimates that “More than 60 million Americans experience devastating one-two punches to their health”:
Despite its wealth, the United States has one of the largest health care disparities in the world. Wealthy Americans have access to top medical treatment, but those who have low incomes often receive no or inappropriate care. This can become further exacerbated when social discrimination due to race, sex, or economic class negatively impacts treatment.
Even when at-risk American populations do manage to access health care, the medical and behavioral health treatment they receive is overly medicalized, failing to look at the full risks marginalized communities face that increase their susceptibility to physical illness and mental health challenges. AASWSW believes health care access won’t be equal until their treatment takes social factors into account.
Social work professionals and students can both help our culture work toward achieving health equity. No matter where you are in your career, these are four things you can do.
Evidence-based studies have shown that many behavioral programs that affect the younger population can be avoided via preventative approaches.
1. Read and learn. The AASWSW wrote three detailed reports you can begin by reading, which explore reducing health care inequalities, how to make American health care stronger, and minimizing alcohol abuse. As further research is published about health care equity, make sure to stay on top of the latest developments.
2. Educate. Even clinicians and health care providers with the best intentions for quality treatment can be unaware of the systemic equalities entire populations face. At your workplace or school, provide articles and information about improving your area’s health care access, and see if a workshop or inservice can take place. Spread the world about health care best practices to any community resources you partner with for client care.
3. Get on the ground level. The current system might not be perfect, but if you’re in a position where you work directly with clients, you can assist them in navigating the health care system and getting the care they deserve. Help your clients apply for and access Medicare, Medicaid, and Affordable Care Act plans, while identifying physical and behavioral health care clinics that will best meet client needs.
4. Appeal to government officials. Solving systematic inequality starts at the government level. Be prepared to write and lobby your local, state, and government representatives to vote for bills that support this overall goal. Vote and campaign for candidates who will draft and support bills that are in line with social work values.
No matter which of these steps you choose to take, you’ll improve the lives of the people we serve by taking on this challenge.