‘Our work here reduces healthcare disparities by providing care to under-resourced communities, but our centers can only operate if we receive necessary funding. As our city continues to confront issues of racism in health care and other aspects of our lives, a pandemic budget cut will cause irreparable harm to those who need the most help.’
As a family medicine physician, I am acutely aware of how different aspects of people’s lives intersect with their health and well-being. Taking care of people’s health is a multidimensional feat. It means understanding their home life, their childhood, their access to community resources, and how the intersectionality of their identities might affect their health. Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives,” and it’s clear to see that health is not a single-issue struggle. As a Black woman myself, I am all too familiar with how blood work or an ultrasound report might not tell a complete story when it comes to one’s actual well-being or their physical and mental health.
As the medical director of Public Health Solutions’ Sexual and Reproductive Health Centers, I work every day with dedicated staff, mostly people of color, to serve the Brooklyn community through our two centers in Fort Greene and Brownsville. Our centers have been open for approximately 55 years, and we serve a community comprised mostly of people of color — many of whom have been coming to our centers for over 10 years and would not be able to get personalized, patient-centered, free or low-cost health care services anywhere else. We provide direct health-care services such as prenatal care, gynecological services, contraceptive counseling and management, as well as health education and social work services. We serve people of all ages, from teenagers to older adults, never turning away someone for a lack of health insurance. Nearly two-thirds of our patients live below the poverty line, more than half rely on public health insurance programs, and almost a quarter lack health insurance altogether. Unfortunately, the people we serve are now at risk of losing their only access to health care due to changes in the New York state budget, currently being negotiated in Albany, which cuts off funding to our centers.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic heavily impacting our neighborhood and the city, our doors have never closed. During a time when people fear for their jobs, their health, and their loved ones, we have been able to continue providing essential and life-saving care for those who need it. Our centers and our staff work towards providing equitable care for our community and answering the needs of the community. Not only do we reflect the community demographics, we understand through our own lived experiences that women of color are disproportionately affected by adverse sexual and reproductive health care outcomes.
Many of our patients are Black women, and our conversations in the office often include their outside lives. They share their fears, anxieties, hopes, and dreams, and I have the privilege of better understanding their life’s bigger picture. Recently, I saw a patient who told me that she had completed nursing school and was now studying for exams. We celebrated her hard work, commiserated together about academic challenges, and excitedly discussed her ideal jobs. Eventually, our conversation about her future led to sexual and reproductive health care. She was interested in having a child, however, at this time she put those plans on hold. She was scared about racism within health care, primarily about the unacceptable high rates of maternal mortality among Black women both locally and nationally. I listened and shared with her my own similar fears and anxieties about my reproductive health. Although I didn’t pretend to have all the answers, I confidently told her this: I and everyone here at the centers will do everything to make sure you have access to high-quality and culturally-competent care.
I intend to keep our promise to this young woman, and especially so during this pandemic. Our work here reduces healthcare disparities by providing care to under-resourced communities, but our centers can only operate if we receive necessary funding. As our city continues to confront issues of racism in health care and other aspects of our lives, a pandemic budget cut will cause irreparable harm to those who need the most help. New York State legislators cannot let this injustice stand.
April Lockley, DO, is the Medical Director for Public Health Solutions Sexual and Reproductive Health Centers.