Senior citizen woman in wheelchair in a nursing home.

The Barriers to Aging in Place

By Renu Thomas and John Roth

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the risks associated with institutionalized care for the elderly, and has further shifted sentiments toward a preference for aging in place. But most seniors and their loved ones don’t realize the barriers that make aging in place a difficult proposition until a crisis occurs and they’re faced with finding services.

Take our family, for example. My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and it was after his first fall and discharge from the hospital that our family realized my parents’ independence was severely limited. We knew their house was not wheelchair or walker accessible, but we also needed to address other issues as well; neither of them could drive anymore, so how would we get them to appointments, how would their prescriptions and groceries get picked up, and how could we prevent them from being socially isolated? Like many families, we do not live nearby, let alone in the same state, which made coordinating these services even more challenging.

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People protesting with signs that say "healthcare is a human right" and "medicare for all."

Why We Need a Transformative Right-to-Health Pandemic Treaty Now

By Martín Hevia and Ximena Benavides

Acknowledging what went wrong during the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial to any pandemic lawmaking efforts. Chief among these concerns should be the centrality of human rights to global health security.

Health systems that lack universality and inclusivity will always fall short on disease surveillance, detection, and response during health emergencies, at the risk of not reaching all populations. The risk of exclusion exceeds national borders. Regional and global health governance favor the ‘competition of a few’ over (formal) solidarity, which explains why some of the small number of international collaborative initiatives aiming to reach the poorest countries during the pandemic are falling short.

Nonetheless, human rights remain at the periphery of the global health security conversation and the pandemic treaty debate.

Following the call of dozens of world leaders for a new treaty or another legally binding instrument to strengthen pandemic preparedness and response, the World Health Assembly will convene a special session in November 2021 to consider a new binding agreement that could address key failings in the COVID-19 response, including the insufficient international cooperation to implement the International Health Regulations’ (2005) public health capacities. Such an initiative should also serve as the long-awaited international policy-making window to address our health systems’ deep structural problems.

How can a pandemic treaty positively transform our health systems? In this contribution, we outline four core strategies.

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Gavel and stethoscope.

Symposium Conclusion: Health Justice: Engaging Critical Perspectives in Health Law & Policy

By Lindsay F. Wiley and Ruqaiijah Yearby

As our digital symposium on health justice comes to a close, we have much to be thankful for and inspired by. We are honored to provide a platform for contributions from scholars spanning multiple disciplines, perspectives, and aspects of health law and policy. Collectively with these contributors, we aim to define the contours of the health justice movement and debates within it, and to explore how scholars, activists, communities, and public health officials can work together to engage critical perspectives in health law and policy.

As we described in our symposium introduction, the questions we posed to contributors focused their work on four main themes: (1) subordination (including discrimination and poverty) is the root cause of health injustice, (2) subordination shapes health through multiple pathways, (3) health justice engages multiple kinds of experiences and expertise, and (4) health justice requires empowering communities, redressing harm, and reconstructing systems. Most of the contributions to this symposium cut across more than one of these themes, but we present them here in four broad categories.

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Group of Diverse Kids Playing in a Field Together.

Health Justice is Within Our Reach

By Dayna Bowen Matthew

Health justice is the outcome when law protects against the unequal distribution of the basic needs that all humanity requires to be healthy. Angela Harris and Aysha Pamukcu define health justice in terms of ending the subordination and discrimination that produce health disparities.

I first saw and experienced the need for the work to achieve health justice as a child. I grew up in the South Bronx, insulated from the absence of health justice until the fourth grade, when I began attending private school. Before then, I had no idea that the racially, ethnically, and economically segregated society in which I lived, played, and attended school and church was any different than the society that existed unbeknownst to me outside of my zip code.

I crossed interstate highway exchanges daily as I walked to P.S. 93, oblivious to the fact that other kids did not breathe the exhaust fumes and toxins from nearby waste transfer stations that tainted the air where my mostly Black, Dominican, and Puerto Rican neighbors lived. I had no idea that clean, breathable air was inequitably distributed in this country by race.

It was not until I left the South Bronx to attend school in Riverdale that I realized other families had an array of housing options to choose from that were different than mine. In fourth grade, when my family began voluntarily bussing me to private school, I learned that the housing available to families extended beyond the racially segregated shotgun row house I lived in, the stinky, dimly lit apartment buildings on my corner or “the projects” where my grandparents lived in Harlem. Who knew there were sprawling homes atop manicured lawns and opulent apartments overlooking Central Park available throughout other parts of the city? Who knew that even modestly priced apartments could be located near green spaces, well-stocked grocery markets, and schools that prepared kids well for college? Not me. I had no idea until I began to see that decent, clean, affordable housing, and resource-rich neighborhoods are inequitably distributed by race and ethnicity in America.

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCT. 8, 2019: Rally for LGBTQ rights outside Supreme Court as Justices hear oral arguments in three cases dealing with discrimination in the workplace because of sexual orientation.

LGBTQ Health Equity and Health Justice

By Heather Walter-McCabe

LGBTQ communities experience health inequities compared to heterosexual and cisgender peers. The health justice framework allows advocates to move the work upstream to the root causes of the problems, rather than placing a band-aid on the resultant consequences once the harm is caused.

It is not enough to provide individual treatment for the harm caused by stigma and bias. Health justice is a crucial means of ensuring that health care is equitable and that impacted communities are involved in policy and system advocacy.

The health justice framework, with its emphasis on community involvement in structural and governmental responses to systems-level transformation, must guide work in the area of LGBTQ health equity.

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Pulse oximeter used to measure pulse rate and oxygen levels in use on a person's finger.

‘I Can’t Breathe’: Racism in Medical Technology

By Aziza Ahmed

When Black Lives Matters (BLM) activists say “I can’t breathe,” they are acknowledging that breathing is not simply biological — it is enabled or disabled by law and politics. They are right.

In fact, the legal and political environment shapes and legitimates the very tools we use to monitor our capacity to breathe.

The racial justice uprisings and the COVID-19 pandemic have inspired advocates, scholars, and researchers to examine the assumptions about race that have embedded themselves into these tools — the medical technologies we use to measure if, and how, a person is breathing and absorbing oxygen.

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Work-life balance. flat design style minimal vector illustration.

Shortening Medical Training Would Help Trainees Balance Family and Career

By Leah Pierson

In my junior year of college, my pre-medical advisor instructed me to take time off after graduating and before applying to medical school.

I was caught off guard.

At 21, it had already occurred to me that completing four years of medical school, at least three years of residency, several more years of fellowship, and a PhD, would impact my ability to start a family.

I was wary of letting my training expand even further, but this worry felt so vague and distant that I feared expressing it would signal a lack of commitment to my career.

I now see that this worry was well-founded: the length of medical training unnecessarily compromises trainees’ ability to balance their careers with starting families.

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Emergency room.

Truth and Reconciliation in Health Care: Addressing Medical Racism using a Health Justice Framework

By Amber Johnson

Healing processes, such as the truth and reconciliation process, can operationalize the three components of the health justice framework — community empowerment, structural remediation, and financial and structural supports — to address the trauma of medical racism. Structural remediation and institutional change is a long and slow process; however, changing the way we interact with each other — through healing processes — can lead to swift, radical changes. Consider, for example, interpersonal racism in patient/provider health care interactions.

Interpersonal racism in patient/provider interaction can determine whether a patient’s needs are met, and can be the deciding factor between survival or death. From communication between a provider and a patient, to diagnosis and treatment, to follow-up care and pain management, the patient/provider interaction is integral to obtaining access to quality health care. When interpersonal racism is at play, the quality of care is substandard and health outcomes are negatively impacted.

Interpersonal racism is one aspect of patient/provider interaction(s) that has massive implications for health outcomes, and it is also one that hospitals and medical staff have the direct agency, resources, and time to change. But this must be done at least partially on an individual level — neither patients nor providers can eradicate racism without acknowledging the truth of the harm caused and healing from the harm.

Acknowledging the truth may be achieved through a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC), a process whereby parties who have been harmed and parties who have caused harm are able to share their experiences and revise ahistorical narratives, so that they reflect the truth and seek justice in the form of reconciliation, reparations, or some form of resolution.

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Scales of justice and gavel on table.

Symposium Introduction: Health Justice: Engaging Critical Perspectives in Health Law and Policy

By Ruqaiijah Yearby and Lindsay F. Wiley

Public health scholars, advocates, and officials have long recognized that factors outside an individual’s control act as barriers to individual and community health.

To strive for health equity, in which everyone “has the opportunity to attain . . . full health potential and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or any other socially defined circumstance,” many have adopted the social determinants of health (SDOH) model, which identifies social and economic factors that shape health. Yet, health equity has remained elusive in the United States, in part because the frameworks that most prominently guide health reform do not adequately address subordination as the root cause of health inequity, focus too much on individuals, and fail to center community voices and perspectives.

The health justice movement seeks to fill these gaps. Based in part on principles from the reproductive justice, environmental justice, food justice, and civil rights movements, the health justice movement rejects the notion that health inequity is an individual phenomenon best explained and addressed by focusing on health-related behaviors and access to health care. Instead it focuses on health inequity as a social phenomenon demanding wide-ranging structural interventions.

This digital symposium, part of the Health Justice: Engaging Critical Perspectives in Health Law & Policy Initiative launched in 2020, seeks to further define the contours of and debates within the health justice movement and explore how scholars, activists, communities, and public health officials can use health justice frameworks to achieve health equity.

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