In April 2009, Children's Health Fund (CHF) and its supporters, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and signer/songwriter Paul Simon, kicked off the Kids Can't Wait campaign - an effort to expand health care services to disadvantaged children and raise national awareness of health care access challenges facing America's children.
CHF launched the campaign in Detroit, along with a weekend of free health care, because the city had been so hard hit by the recession. At that point, the reporting of the evolving economic calamity was all about rising deficits, mortgage melt-downs and credit default swaps. What was missing in these arcane economic descriptions was the human element - the painful consequences of a terrible economy on ordinary people. In fact, in places like Detroit, unemployment rates were soaring, homelessness was on the rise and parents were struggling to provide for their children who were losing health care coverage, along with a lot of other support that families depended upon.
Two years later, there are positive signs of recovery throughout the city. The job market, including the auto industry, is beginning to rebound. And there's been a strong investment in a new initiative designed to improve the chaotic education system.
Despite the improvements, Detroit continues to lag far behind Michigan and the United States in many health respects, including child poverty, low birth weight and infant mortality. And the pediatric asthma prevalence in Detroit is at least double the national rate. Simply put, many children in Detroit remain shut out of the health care system.
Over the last few months, CHF and Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) have been working to find new ways of helping children who desperately need essential medical care. Today Sen. Stabenow, Paul Simon, CHF staff and HFHS leadership launch Motor City's new mobile pediatric clinic. This roving clinic will bring HFHS medical teams to inner city schools in neighborhoods where access to care is otherwise highly problematic.
It is abundantly clear that many of Detroit's children have a particularly difficult time accessing health care. There aren't enough pediatricians in struggling communities to accommodate the need, a simple reality that puts low-income children at risk of lifelong consequences from undiagnosed or under-treated medical and mental health conditions.
But what has happened to the old concept of a school nurse that so many of my generation grew up with? With budget cuts and structural changes occurring in the public school system, school-based clinics and nurses are disappearing, leaving many children without access to any kind of health care, other than emergency departments. For at least some of Detroit's most disadvantaged kids, the new CHF mobile medical clinic will expand HFHS' ability to reach these children with the care they need.
CHF estimates that the mobile medical clinic will serve 1,000 to 1,500 children per year with comprehensive health care services, including primary care, physical exams, immunizations, vision and dental services and management of chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes.
The Great Recession is far from over - and we're likely to be living with serious economic pain for the foreseeable future. But there are welcome signs of an uptick in Detroit's economy. The least we can do now is invest in children and make sure they have a shot at growing up healthy - ready to succeed in school and, eventually, be a productive part of the nation's future.
Follow Irwin Redlener, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/IrwinRedlenerMD