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April 17, 2014

Rep. Bucshon leads discussion on minority care in Vigo County

TERRE HAUTE — The list of problems seems endless: Lack of health insurance, mental illness, cultural barriers and stigmas about routine medical check ups, to name only a few.

These were just some of the problems seen as associated with improving the health of minorities in Vigo County brought forward during a discussion Thursday afternoon featuring U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Newburgh, and more than two dozen community leaders.

“Poverty leads to everything,” including suicide and other problems, said Mel Burks, CEO of Hamilton Center, a multi-county provider of mental health services. “People are literally dying” because of gridlock in Washington, he said.

Any improvement in health care for minorities may need to start with addressing poverty, Burks said.

Bucshon, who is a heart surgeon, asked participants in the discussion, which included representatives of several area health care institutions, for suggestions on dealing with poverty.

President Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” was launched 50 years ago and hasn’t made a significant dent in the problem, he said. “Fifty years later, we’re in the same place. My question is: Why?”

There remains a stigma around mental health services as well, participants said. Bucshon agreed there are problems with mental health care in the U.S.

“We’re doing a disservice to people with mental illness,” Bucshon said, mentioning the recent shootings at Fort Hood in Texas, in which the shooter was said to suffer from mental illness. Bucshon said he has joined forces with Rep. David Scott, D-Georgia, to increase incentives for psychiatrists to work at veterans hospitals.

“This is going to get done,” Bucshon said, noting the legislation has bipartisan support.

Some, including Burks, expressed frustration with gridlock in Washington. This is a time of strong partisanship, Bucshon agreed, adding he expects that to diminish in time.

Bucshon said any long-term solution to health care access in the U.S. will require either spending more, reducing the costs or some combination of both. To bring costs under control, more competition and more consumer-driven decision making is necessary, he said.

Speaking after the meeting, Bucshon said discussions such as Thursday’s are very helpful and he took away some new information, including concerns about access to health insurance in Vigo County.

Hosted by the Minority Health Coalition of Vigo County, the discussion included comments from representatives of the local NAACP, Hamilton Center, St. Anne’s Clinic, area churches, the Indiana University Medical Center in Terre Haute and other organizations.

Speaking after the 90-minute meeting, Dinah Farrington, executive director and program coordinator for the Minority Health Coalition, said she felt the discussions went well.

“Our job is to provide the facts of what’s going on in Vigo County,” Farrington said. There is an open dialogue and the congressman indicated an interest in keeping it going, she said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@trib


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